The following is a shortened version of my more detailed post, "It's Time for St. John's to Become Truly Business Friendly"
I’ve been looking for ways to help our local business community for some time, and feel like our progress hasn’t been strong enough. So today I’m offering a set of 10 objectives with clear actions to try and make some tangible improvements.
Note: These Are My Personal Opinions
What you're about to read is a series of objectives that I, as an individual councillor, have been exploring. It is not a formal, Council-approved plan, and while I have reviewed all of it with staff, I can't guarantee this will all be accomplished.
With that said, the point of this post is to begin a public conversation about how we can do better. The actions below will be modified based on the ensuing feedback, and will act as a guide for my personal efforts to make St. John's more business friendly.
Here are the objectives:
- Increase awareness of our Welcome Centre and Business Information Services and make it the primary source for all business-related inquiries
- Ensure there's good alignment between the three main "business contact points"
- Clarify and maximize the efficiency of the permit process for businesses
- Review and revamp the City’s Business Guide
- Review and update permit processes for developers to improve speed and clarity
- Foster a culture of “Let’s Make This Work”
- Improve coordination with and support of downtown businesses
- Foster appropriate development with supports, incentives, and clear guidelines
- Reduce the cost of government to avoid further tax increases
- Grow the economy and tax base
The overall objective is to foster "A Culture of Collaboration". You can read more details below, or read the full post for lots more information and resources.
Connecting with City Hall
Objective 1: Increase awareness of our Welcome Centre and Business Information Services and make it the primary source for all business-related inquiries
- Develop a campaign to promote Business Information Centre
- This is currently in progress
Objective 2: Ensure there's good alignment between the three main entry points
- Hold regular meetings between Business Services, Development Team, and Access Centre personnel to ensure all have accurate and up to date information for businesses and developers
The Business Permit Process
Objective 3: Clarify and maximize the efficiency of the business permit process
- Reduce the number and clarify the names of steps and requirements
- Develop a “roadmap” or similar easy-to-follow listing of steps
Objective 4: Review and revamp the City’s Business Guide
- Set up a working group that includes small business owners to review and update the Guide
- Note: The document is currently reviewed every year for accuracy
The Development Permit Process
Objective 5: Review and update development permit processes to improve speed and clarity
- Identify processes and steps that have the potential to become a “CI project”
- This is actually a massive project. So far we have only scratched the surface with 2 or 3 CI projects ongoing for permitting and development. This will take a long time (hence "continuous"), but see point 4 below.
- Write a plain-language overview of the application process
- Develop plain-language overviews of code, heritage, and regulations
- Write a blog post explaining our Continuous Improvement program and describe the projects completed or currently underway related to permitting
Objective 6: Foster a Culture of “Let’s Make This Work”
- Define what is meant by “Let’s Make This Work”
- My personal view is that it means effectively collaborating with the applicant in a shared effort to help them achieve their objective.
- Implement an internal initiative to create awareness and shift attitudes
- This is the most complicated and sensitive suggestion that I have. I've learned through my time on Council and in working with staff that it is extremely important to be frank with developers and not sugar coat what's required. If they will have hurdles to face to do a rezoning or to address storm water detention, for example, it has to be laid out clearly so there are no false expectations. What I'm aiming at here is for Council and staff to "keep it real" while also remaining as positive and supportive as possible.
- I speak to this in more detail below in "A Culture of Collaboration"
Objective 7: Improve coordination with and support of downtown businesses
- Encourage and participate in the development of a shared vision for the downtown
Support the Downtown St. John’s Business Improvement Area (BIA) board
- Our new Municipal Plan calls for "neighbourhood plans" and the downtown will be the first one. The terms of reference for this initiaitve will be completed this year
Build on positive partnerships and promotion of Water Street Infrastructure Project
- Re-establish the DTSJ Joint Liaison Committee with regular meetings
- Continue support for the #LoveDowntown initiative
- Collaborate on beautification and clean-up programs
Continue to enable, support, and organize downtown festivals and events
- Utilize mailing list and meetings to keep owners and public informed
- The City regular supports events via our Special Events Advisory Comittee
- You can see Downtown St. John's events listing at lovedowntownstjohns.com
Objective 8: Foster appropriate development with supports, incentives, and clear guidelines
Explore the creation of a "downtown renovation grants" incentive program
- Implement the paid parking management plan and provide “parking relief” for new developments in dense areas
Promote new height allowances in upcoming development regulations
Expand the downtown “intensification area” to waive development fees for more projects
- Similar to our heritage incentives and DTSJ's Façade Improvement Program
The Costs of Doing Business
Objective 9: Reduce the cost of government to avoid further tax increases
- Continue our policy of salary and benefit restraint for all employees
- Grow our Continuous Improvement program to include more employees and projects
- Review services with potential for outsourcing
- Review budget programs (again) for further spending cuts
- Lobby government(s) to avoid or defer major expense increases such as for the Riverhead Wastewater Treatment
Objective 10: Grow the economy and tax base
The following is a list of examples only and is not a complete picture of everything the City is working on.
- Review and Update the Strategic Economic Roadmap (underway)
- Strengthen City Hall’s role in supporting tourism
- Encourage immigration and help newcomers to settle
- We have a Local Immigration Partnership to “help newcomers fully engage in all aspects of social, economic, and cultural life”
- Recently launched MyNewStJohns.ca to help newcomers easily find and access existing programs and services in the city.
- Work to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)
- We are currently working on a shared approach with our partners to ensure when someone calls looking for information about setting up a business or investing in the St. John’s region, we’re all “speaking the same language” and can connect them with the best people and information
- Reduce Red Tape
- Most of what I spoke about in previous sections is really “red tape reduction” but it bears repeating as a more efficient City Hall means our economy can be more nimble and vibrant
- We have implemented and are steadily expanding our Continuous Improvement program at City Hall which specifically looks to eliminate waste in all operations
- We’re in the final stage of approving our modernized development regulations which will give developers more clarity as to what, where, and how they can build
A Culture of Collaboration
I’ve listed a number of ways in which City Hall can become more “friendly” to business, but ultimately what I and that report’s author are talking about is the building of a culture of collaboration. One that’s more enthusiastic about and encouraging to the folks who are working to make things happen in our city.
But how do we better empower a group of already-friendly and helpful staff? The answer is to bring everyone together to share stories, concerns, and ideas so we can develop better processes and policies to speed things up and make everyone’s lives easier.
With that in mind, please join me in this effort by sharing your stories, thoughts, and suggestions. You can do so in the comments section below, on my Facebook Page, or you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I — and many others — would love to hear from you.
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