I’ve talked about this in a couple other blog posts, but it’s worth revisiting the topic and discussing how Economic Development will be fitting into the overall plan to start returning the city to sustainable revenues with the ability to meet its service obligations to the public.
Along with appointing a new Economic Development Director and adding a new Assistant Economic Development Director, we have been working behind the scenes to make our city much more business friendly. We’re not finished, but we’ve made a lot of progress.
We’ve added a “one stop shop” concept at city hall. In the past, if you wanted to open a business, we would parade you around the building to Zoning, Planning, Health, Building Inspection, Public Works and others giving you a stack of paper and send you on your way, hoping that you’d bring it all back correctly filled out and processed in the proper order. I don’t blame anyone for that old process, it was simply how we and many other communities have (and many still do) set up their building permitting systems. We’ve attempted to streamline that process so that a business can come in, meet with one person, and the City staff does the running, not the potential business owner. We lead you through the system in the proper order to make it easier to do business with the city. This is a fairly new program, but the early results are promising. We’ll continue to tweak the program as we get feedback from local business.
We are completing a comprehensive re-write of our Zoning Code. Much of our current code was written in the 1960’s and the style and content of Ohio Zoning Law has changed over time. We have a very experienced team working with the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals to update our concepts and standards. When the process is completed in mid 2016, we should adopt one of the most modern zoning codes in the State of Ohio. We are also hiring a new Zoning Administrator to help businesses utilize the new code efficiently.
We are working to better market the city through social media, press releases, partnerships with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
We are getting experience and understanding of how to effectively utilize new tools to promote development, redevelopment, and new financing options including use of the Butler County Land Bank, the Butler and Warren County Port Authorities, creation of a new development fund through Middletown Moving Forward that will be similar to the City of Hamilton’s CORE fund, and an agreement with our partners in the school district on how and when we should offer property tax abatements as an Economic Development incentive to stimulate new business.
We are getting more sophisticated in our use of local and state incentives available to offer custom packages that meet the particular needs of today’s businesses. We now regularly work with Tax Increment Financing, Enterprise Zones, Job Creation Incentive Grants, Façade grants, and Community Reinvestment Areas.
We are working on making our work force and our geographic locations easier to use and more attractive for business recruitment. We are working on getting a Work Ready Community Certification so that businesses know the skill level and readiness of our work force. We are working with the State of Ohio on a site certification program which allows businesses to see not only acreage available for any parcel, but also the topography of the land, wetland or environmental issues, and other items that may be helpful in evaluating a particular piece of land for a particular use.
We are partnering with the Chamber of Commerce to complete retention visits to existing businesses. In the past, I think we have often been so consumed with bringing new business to the city that we didn’t always give the attention needed to existing businesses that have stuck with the city through good times and bad. They are the backbone upon which new business can be built and we have to listen to their needs and help our local businesses thrive and expand.
Finally, we’re looking at larger picture items such as traffic patterns and transit operations to discuss how we can move people, goods, customers, and workers more quickly and efficiently through the city to promote business, and to get employees to work, raw materials to our manufacturers, and customers to our retailers in faster, easier ways.
All of this is in the works in various stages and forms. These are the types of building blocks that allow us to move forward at the speed of business and to be prepared to offer just a little better incentive package, a little better customer service, and a little quicker response time than our neighbors. If we do the right things every day just a little better and faster than our neighbors, we will be successful in bringing new business to town and to helping our existing businesses be their best.