Businesses find city helpful


Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Gainesville city government has a reputation for being anti-small business.

A committee of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce set out to find out why that is the perception and how they could help improve the situation.

The main complaints businesses have are about the permit process, according to John Hermann, a volunteer small business adviser with SCORE.

Hermann and the Business Advocacy Committee brought together business leaders with city staff to address the issue.

Greg Johnson, president of Quality Cleaners, said his past experience was that the city had earned its reputation. He expected city staff to be defensive, but said what he found was that they are very open and helpful.

That doesn't mean the city will rubber stamp everything, he said, but they are trying to streamline the process, make it more transparent and help businesses through it.

The committee and city staff picked apart the permitting process and identified where permits were stalling, according to Tom Saunders, city Community Development director. The city will respond faster to requests for zoning compliance permits to make sure the properties are properly zoned for what the business wants to do. Inspectors are on point as the business renovates the building, he said. Various departments are trying to synchronize their inspection and permit review processes.

One of the little known services the city provides is a walk-through of a property to see if it can accommodate whatever business is proposed before that business signs a lease. Otherwise, the proprietor could be stuck with a year lease in a building they can't use.

The city is also seeking a vendor for software to help track permits. That way, an applicant can find out if their permit is in the hands of the city, fire department or Gainesville Regional Utilities and how far along it is.

The chamber and city staff are working on a customer service survey to businesses that have been through the process and find out where they can fine tune it.

The city is also putting together a list of steps in the review process so applicants can schedule reviews, such as those for health and environment.

Perhaps most importantly, according to committee members, the city and business community have created an ongoing dialogue so they can come together when they have issues and concerns.

They plan to do the same with Alachua County staff, according to Brent Christensen, chamber president.

The trick is also getting the word out to businesses about what help is available to them, the purpose of many of last week's Small Business Week activities organized by the chamber.

"A lot of times, small businesses don't know what they don't know when working with government," Christensen said.

Anthony Clark can be reached at 352-374-5094 or anthony.clark@gvillesun.com.

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