The City of St. John’s is working with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) to simplify permit requirements for small business.
“We’re taking a much stronger approach to making St. John’s more business friendly” says City Councillor Dave Lane.
Lane says some of the biggest frustrations for people trying to set up shop in St. John’s involve figuring out which permits they need to secure before opening their doors.
To address these frustrations, The City formed a City Business Roundtable committee, and invited representatives from the business community to meet with Councillors and high level city staff on a regular basis.
Among the committee members are the City Manager, Mayor, Depute Mayor, and some councilors, as well as representatives from the St. John’s Board of Trade, the Canadian Home Builders Association, the Heavy Industries Association, and the CFIB’s Director of Provincial Affairs.
Lane says the roundtable’s initial meetings were about gaining a shared understanding of how the City operates. The City explained its budget process to committee members and discussed their internal program review.
Cost of Development Permits Lowered in Response to Economic Situation
In more recent meetings, the committee discussed how the current economic situation has lowered the number development applications the City receives. With the help of the roundtable, The City decided to reduce the cost of development permits by twenty percent.
“The committee … is figuring out how we can make decisions through City Hall that keep an eye on the economy as opposed to just how the City operates as an organization,” Lane said.
Aiming to Streamline Permit Application Process
Next, the committee plans to focus on streamlining the permitting process for opening a small business in St. John’s.
To get a better understanding of the permitting process, the committee will look at case studies of steps taken by established local businesses. They will also track a business that is currently setting up shop, to document the owner’s progress as they acquire the necessary permits. This will help them improve the system for other entrepreneurs.
The roundtable is also clarifying the permitting process for renovating an existing business. Lane says there is often confusion about which permits are needed to renovate, which can lead to an unexpectedly long remodelling process.
“I think of it as making it easier to navigate City Hall whether you’re starting a business, or you’re trying to do something different with your business,” Lane explained.
Lane says that while the City is committed to upgrading the permitting processes for independent businesses, it also wants to make people aware of resources that are already available.
“If you have an idea for a business but haven’t made a business plan yet, it’s a great idea to reach out to the City’s Business Information Centre, because we’ll give you the lay of land,” Lane said.
The Business Information Centre gives people access to the City’s most recent economic report and demographic study, which contain information about consumer trends in the city. The Centre will also connect people with organizations that help develop business plans and issue loans and grants.
“What we’re really trying to do is inform people about what’s available right now in terms of help for starting a business, but also developing a relationship with the community through our City Business Roundtable, and then digging into some supports that we need to give,” Lane says.