Marabet Morales reflects at the Oakland Public Library, Eastmont Branch
Oakland Public Library, Eastmont Branch is one of five locations of the city's new BAC pilot program. Credit: Amir Aziz

From now through December, current and prospective small-business owners in Oakland can schedule a 30-minute appointment with a staff person from the city’s Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWDD) at one of five Oakland Public Library locations. 

Individuals who schedule an appointment can obtain guidance on how to start a business, get information about available grants, and referrals to organizations offering small-business services such as The Unity Council and The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. One EWDD staff member will be present at each of the five library branches. 

  • West Oakland (every other Monday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.)
  • 81st Avenue (every other Tuesday from 5-8 p.m.)
  • César E. Chávez (every other Wednesday from 5-8 p.m.)
  • Golden Gate (every other Thursday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.)
  • Eastmont (every other Friday from 12-3 p.m.)

Micah Hinkle, EWDD deputy director, said the main purpose of the Remote Business Assistance Center Pilot Program is to help business owners navigate the permitting process—steps such as applying for a business license, getting zoning clearance, or obtaining a county health permit—which some local businesses have struggled with. “A lot of times this place can be daunting,” Hinkle said of his city department, “so the goal for us is to be a tour guide that can help people understand where to go.” 

Department staff began discussing the program and looking into possible workshop locations in June, and  a virtual soft launch was held a couple of weeks ago. EWDD plans to advertise the pilot program via Oakland’s various chambers of commerce, councilmembers’ networks, and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Business owners who need translation services during their appointment can make arrangements by calling EWDD at (510) 238-7398.

The decision to move forward with in-person workshops was partially due to the pandemic, and the fact that the city’s Business Assistance Center office at Frank Ogawa Plaza was converted into a Parking Citation Center earlier this year. 

“We started thinking about how we could deliver services in a different way without a physical location,” said Harry Hamilton, EWDD marketing coordinator. “It was just a natural idea to go out into the neighborhoods and remove the barrier of folks having to travel downtown to get business support.” 

The current initiative is a pilot, and could be extended if it proves helpful to the small business community. “Hopefully it is successful because I do see this as one of our core services that we provide to Oakland businesses,” Hinkle said of connecting small businesses with information and resources. 

Those interested in making an appointment with an EWDD staff member can register here, or call (510) 238-7398. 

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.