Knox Commerce

CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE PROFILE: LAUREN RIDER (District 4)

CANDIDATE BIO: 

Lauren Rider is an active leader who has worked with neighborhoods and businesses to make our community safer and stronger. She is experienced with City processes and advocating for the community as a two-term Neighborhood Advisory Council member, past-president of Old North Knoxville and current Broadway Corridor Task Force co-chair.

Lauren has both small business and leadership experience, having led several community-based renovation projects that contributed to the recent wave of revitalization in North Knoxville. When frustrated by vacant, problem properties, Lauren reached out to neighbors and formed collaborative LLCs to tackle several problem properties.

They were able to avoid tax-payer funded demolition of abandoned properties and welcome new neighbors to revitalized homes which were returned to the tax rolls.

Lauren lives in North Knoxville with her husband, Steven, and their sons Finley and Hagen. She is a Faculty member at Pellissippi State Community College, where she enjoys working with students as the Division Street Campus Librarian. Additionally, she likes biking area trails and greenways with family or walking area neighborhoods with friends. You may also occasionally find the Rider family paddling the Tennessee River with their poodle Spike along for the ride.

CANDIDATE Q&A:

What are three factors you feel are most critical to continuing Knoxville’s steady economic growth? How do you plan to support these factors?

While Knoxville has a healthy mix of local, regional and larger-scale businesses, small, local start-ups are critical to building a healthy economy.

It’s important to have welcoming and navigatable policies that foster good economic growth. New and growing businesses must locate and establish physical space, secure funding for capital and have a base of employees to draw from. To keep growing, all of these elements must be available. If we present too much red tape, an entrepreneur will locate elsewhere.

Physical space: Whether a business needs a large facility or a shared space, I think it’s critical to provide support for businesses navigating zoning regulations or building and inspections permits. As new business models evolve (food trucks is a past example), we should be open to looking at how that works with current regulations and what changes could be needed to allow positive growth.

Funding for start-ups: The city cannot directly supply capital, but it can support entities that mentor, train and supply or direct businesses to capital sources, like Urban League or KEC. The city can also supply support through infrastructure improvements via the Development department. Specifically, the Community Development department’s Facade Grant program has enabled businesses establishing in older structures a source for bricks and mortar improvement. Continuation of these support programs and how/where they are implemented is critical to attracting business growth and stabilizing commercial areas that have struggled with blight or brownfields. As a city, we should also collaborate with the business community and look at possibilities for incentivizing investors to invest locally.

Employees: Multiple factors go into growing and maintaining employees to recruit from. Supporting mentorship programs (Urban league, Change Center), internship programs, after-school mentor programs that we support (Great Schools partnership) which ensure success of students who will go on to the workforce or college/technical training. We must also ensure housing options grow for employees working in the city. As one of the fastest growing cities in the state, we see a real strain on housing supply, which affects affordability and availability. Allowing a mix of housing and commercial use along our corridors is needed to increase housing options. A mixed-use building with a restaurant below and 2nd or 3rd floor residential creates more options for renters or buyers. Currently, our zoning only allows residential separate from commercial with the exception of downtown.

The successful recruitment, retention and expansion of businesses are priorities for growth. I would continue the city’s Office of Business Support that helps the business community troubleshoot and navigate city regulations, policies and departments.

What is the biggest challenge facing Knoxville businesses today? How do you plan to address this issue if elected?

The biggest issue facing businesses I can impact as a council member is tied to physical space and zoning. Identifying and setting up affordable spaces is a critical component for any business. As we overhaul of the zoning code with Recode Knoxville, we should look at both traditional land use and new business models that incorporate shared spaces or home office uses. Incorporating mixed-use models, like downtown but on smaller scales, in our corridors meets several needs.

Housing near work opportunities, but also, the option for residential income to offset the cost of commercial space for some entrepreneurs. With our current zoning code, the two cannot be mixed outside of downtown’s Central Business district. An entrepreneur I know personally redeveloped a small, older building to house two small businesses on the first floor. They were forbidden to create a singular apartment on the 2nd floor, which could have meshed well and provided an additional revenue stream for their start-ups. We have to examine the existing code for opportunities of reasonable growth. Affordable spaces are key to new and expanding businesses.

In what specific ways would you like to see Knoxville’s young professionals more engaged in our community?

Great efforts have been made to engage and get feedback on Recode Knoxville’s zoning overhaul. Sadly, only 10 percent of the population responded to requests for survey feedback. To shape the future of the city and our growth, it’s critical to get more feedback from all of Knoxville, but particularly from our young professionals. These are the future business owners that will be developing and using the space. I would like to see them plugged into the process and how we progress.

Additionally, we should work to plug YEA into mentoring programs and opportunities to volunteer within the city, particularly in underserved communities. It’s important that we foster entrepreneurial growth in all communities across the city to provide greater opportunities for everyone in the population.

All candidate profile information was submitted by the candidate’s election campaign committee. The Knoxville Chamber does not support or endorse candidates in local elections. 

Click here to register for the Young Professional Candidate Forum on Oct. 4.