This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Small businesses like ours drive Utah's economy companies with 500 or fewer employees create more than half of our GDP and about three-quarters of net new jobs. So we're pleased that officials are discussing how to improve Salt Lake City's economic development efforts.
Based on our experiences positive and otherwise with the city's economic development and building services functions, we offer City Council members and Mayor Jackie Biskupski a few suggestions:
• Overhaul permitting processes and improve customer service. Navigating planning, zoning and permitting requirements is unnecessarily difficult for small businesses, especially startups and those renovating buildings or building anew. Larger companies have the resources and experience to navigate the system; small businesses don't, even though the process can be as involved for small and large projects alike.
Redeploying city staff to provide a single point of contact for small businesses would be an effective approach to educate business owners, guide them through the system, flag concerns, help troubleshoot conflicting rules and differing interpretations of them and document solutions.
• Set clear goals and outcomes first, then create a structure for implementation. We support revamping the city's economic development organization the Redevelopment Agency, building services and housing agencies should be better integrated but it's more important to first set clear goals and expected outcomes. Will the city focus on attracting large out-of-town companies, help existing businesses flourish, encourage interesting commercial pockets in underserved neighborhoods, or all of these? Where will emphasis be placed? How will limited resources be prioritized? What will success look like?
Government must innovate, just as business does. A more entrepreneurial approach is needed one that assembles flexible teams to accomplish specific tasks, de-emphasizes process and hierarchy, and focuses on results.
• Reshape zoning to be more workable for today's economy. Salt Lake City's zoning laws are outdated. Modernizing this rigid system is under way, but work needs to be hastened. Try bolder experimentation with zoning in areas ripe for change by enterprising small businesses and unique developments.
• Help local businesses grow, as well as recruiting new firms. Anchor businesses like Goldman Sachs are vital to our economy, They employ thousands of well-paid professionals and have a spin-off effect that creates small businesses and signals to other big businesses that Salt Lake is worth a look.
But large and small businesses have a symbiotic relationship that can't be overlooked. Local businesses help make neighborhoods interesting. Vibrant neighborhoods provide quality of life that attracts and retains talented people. A talented workforce encourages large businesses to expand here, which then provides more opportunities for small businesses.
• Play to our strengths, don't be jealous, and remember that optics matter. Salt Lake City has advantages other local cities don't a progressive transportation network with regional transit converging downtown, interesting, close-in neighborhoods, ample space for denser development, quick access to recreation, unmatched cultural offerings and a thriving bar and restaurant scene.
Rather than worry about competing with the suburbs, let's highlight and strengthen our advantages and address our shortcomings. Salt Lake City is the place for businesses and people who value connecting with one another and with cultural and recreational amenities.
That connection extends to helping those experiencing homelessness. With funding in place to remake services and facilities for homeless individuals and families, expectations are high that swift action will make a noticeable difference. Our community struggles to meet the varied needs of more than 1,000 homeless people a day in one location, which does everyone a disservice. Smaller facilities, well-integrated into our neighborhoods, will be more successful, serve people better and reduce an obstacle to economic growth. Visitors, investors and companies looking to relocate (as well as our own businesses and residents) are all sensitive to the image portrayed by a concentration of homeless individuals and service agencies at the city's front door.
• Think creatively. A new administration and strong interest from the City Council provides a great opportunity to take a fresh look at the city's vision, goals and processes for building a prosperous, entrepreneurial economy. Lessons can be learned from dynamic organizations like Visit Salt Lake, which has been highly effective at bringing conventions and tourists to the region.
We encourage our city leaders to think differently and boldly, try new things, listen to disparate voices, seek inspiration from unexpected places, and don't be afraid to fail. Both innovative and practical ideas to tailor an economic development approach to Salt Lake City's unique needs are plentiful. We're ready to help put them in place to build an ever more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable city.
Micah Peters is CEO of Clearwater Metro. Scott Evans is owner/operator of Pago Restaurant Group. Missy Greis is owner of Publik Coffee Roasters. Chris Zarek and Keith Smith are partners in Form Development.