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Code for America

Santa Cruz secures prestigious technology fellowship program to improve service delivery to small businesses.

Small businesses are a key element to our community’s economic vitality and sustainability. Not only do they employ just over half of all the private-sector employees nationwide and pay 44 percent of the total United States private payroll, small businesses have also generated 64 percent of the net new jobs over the past 15 years.

Santa Cruz recognizes that small business development is the key to a strong emergence from this recession. We have an outstanding history of small business development. We are proud of the successes that Plantronics, O’Neill and Cruzio have achieved over the years. In this current economic environment in which every business is seeking to do more with less in order to remain competitive, time is a precious commodity.

Starting a business in California is still overly reliant upon two tools: in person visits or phone calls to City Hall. These pre-digital tools can increase confusion and processing time for busy entrepreneurs who want to spend less time at City Hall and more time building their businesses.

“From a business perspective, we are part of the larger tech-savvy Silicon Valley network,” said Economic Development/Redevelopment Director Bonnie Lipscomb. “Our business community needs our website to provide better access to information and we want to provide a level of service online that is currently only available by making a trip to City Hall.”

That is why the City of Santa Cruz applied to be a Code for America City in 2012. This San Francisco nonprofit, backed by the Knight and Rockefeller Foundations as well as major tech companies like Google and Facebook, has developed a fellowship model to provide support to local governments to shift the way that they develop and deploy services online.

Code for America is like Teach for America or the Peace Corps for civically motivated technologists who want to help local governments solve community problems. Its 30 developers (selected from 550 applicants) are on a “service year,” and will utilize a year of their professional lives to develop web applications for local governments. This year’s cohort includes a number of technologists from Berkeley, Cornell and Carnegie Mellon who are already working for major companies like Microsoft, Google and the One Laptop Per Child Program.

“The project design outlined for Santa Cruz is intended to be a bit like Turbo Tax for small business permitting,” said City Manager Martín Bernal. “We are not changing how we issue entitlements, but we are making an investment to improve the ‘service layer’ between our processes—and the public who wants to utilize them to create jobs.”

A team of three Code for America fellows will be deployed to Santa Cruz in February of 2012 and spend five weeks embedded in the City, learning everything they can about how a small business proposal goes from concept to reality. Following this scoping period, the team, with assistance of City staff, will build a platform for small business engagement over the next six months for deployment in late 2012.

Santa Cruz joins New Orleans, Detroit, Honolulu, Philadelphia, Austin, Chicago and Macon in the 2012 program.

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Last updated: 11/15/2011 3:41:01 PM