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Businesses say Chardon not too friendly
Businesses say Chardon not too friendly
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Chardon City Council will seek to make the city more business friendly.
But how that will happen is still up in the air as council last week looked at a survey of city businesses, many of which cited an unfriendly atmosphere in working there. Many of the businesses said a lengthy and costly planning and zoning process as being the No. 1 reason for the unfriendliness.
Council debated whether to create a new committee, but members could not agree whether it should contain city representatives or just business people.
Councilman Philip King said council also has to be careful not to duplicate what other committees are doing.
So, the committee that is now in place, the Focus Chardon committee, will return with suggestions on how to make the city more business friendly.
The committee, which looks to build long-term relations with the city's businesses, presented a survey of 23 manufacturing businesses to council. The surveys were the result of one-on-one visits with the businesses from May 2008 through June 2009.
Assistant City Manager Randal Sharpe said many of the businesses felt the visits were worthwhile and were candid in their answers. Businesses were asked to provide information about their companies and then were asked a series of questions about various aspects of working in Chardon, he said.
The committee is composed of Council President Karen Simpson, Chardon Area Chamber of Council representatives and Mr. Sharpe.
Mrs. Simpson said the focus of the program is to retain businesses that already are in the city. She said existing businesses are the primary way to grow jobs and investments. "Up to 80 percent of job growth come through existing businesses, not by attracting new ones," she said.
Mr. Sharpe said the majority of companies said their greatest accomplishment in the last three years was simply surviving.
Tad Roediger, a businessman, chamber and committee member, said most of the companies said they chose to locate in the city because they had ties to the community. He said he was excited because most reported that they were planning for growth now and into the future.
He said 73 percent of businesses reported stable or increased sales, despite the economy. He said 57 percent also reported plans to expand. He said the expansions did not necessarily mean an expansion of the physical plant, but it would mean an increase in work force, more shifts and equipment or increased product line.
Michelle Piscopo, a businesswoman and chamber and committee member, said companies were asked to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the city.
She said companies cited quality of life, a good labor force, good roads and a low crime rate as its strengths. Its weaknesses, she said, were the permit process, the perception of the city being unfriendly to business, a limited labor pool, undependable electric and Internet service and the winter season.
Mr. Roediger said one of the biggest complaints was the brownouts and blackouts that occur with electric power. He said the outages cause the loss of time and money.
He said many also said they considered the city's permitting process cumbersome and the fees costly. He said they asked that the city reconsider its on-site inspection program, which many felt was costly and outside the industry norm.
The committee recommended that the city attempt to include businesses into daily discussions through breakfasts with the city manager or mixers. It also recommended the city begin expanding the current program from industry to include retail and commercial businesses.
Mr. Roediger said the city should look to improve its permitting process and implement more "business-friendly" practices.
Mrs. Simpson said council should be mindful of "unintentional consequences" of legislation, particularly when it comes to the costs involved. "Business friendly -- that's a mind-set, but it has to be translated into our actions," she said.
Mr. Sharpe said the city may learn what makes a community business friendly by talking to other communities that are considered to be that.
Councilman Robert Cromwell said council only can put itself so far into the business owners' minds. "It shouldn't be ideas generated by people who aren't in business," he said. "The contacts you made at those 23 companies will tell us how to make this city business friendly."
Mrs. Simpson said the city has high standards now, but choosing to be more business friendly will not compromise those standards. She said it is more about making the process "easier, better, smoother."
City Manager David Lelko said he and Mr. Sharpe should be permitted to begin meeting with business owners to determine the "critical details" of what specific problems the businesses have with city operations. He said finding exactly what the problems are should be done before a new group is formed.
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