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How can St. John’s be more ‘business friendly’?


On the heels of rough government budgets, with an economy being described like butter left out for too long (ie. “softening”) and shops closed by the financial pressures, commitments are being made toward making business in the City of St. John’s just a little bit easier.

Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
St. John’s city councilor-at-large Dave Lane, poses on Water Street near St. John’s City Hall Friday morning.

When asked what could be done, apart from changing taxation, St. John’s Board of Trade chairman Des Whelan said the city needs to have a welcoming environment, one that appeals to both existing business owners and newcomers.

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And that’s not about a fresh-cut flower or a quick “hello.”

“We need the city to empower staff to foster innovative solutions to common development and business issues and encourage a ‘how can we make this work?’ culture,” Whelan said, in a statement.

St. John’s Coun. Dave Lane laid out his similar thinking in an interview this week.

There is a great deal already in motion in terms of changing attitudes and the resources available to business owners, he said, but more is needed.

He is set to table a motion at the council meeting Monday night, seeking support for a “Business Supports Initiative.”

Sounds vague? Sure.

Step 1 is making sure new entrants to the local business community are aware of the available services, to make it a bit easier from the get-go, he said.

“We do have a Business Information Centre, where people can come in and say, ‘I’d like to start a business’ and someone will walk them through the process,” he said.

“We participate in a program called BizPal, which helps make licensing and permitting more efficient and convenient, because you can access it online 24/7,” he added, as another example, noting it is a co-ordinated effort with the province.

A next step is assuring city services are easily accessed and navigated, so as not to add stress for the business owner.

For new or growing businesses, Lane highlighted that a development committee including city staff meets every Wednesday by appointment with anyone with a new construction project or expansion, to walk through their plan.

The city’s general information centre, reached at 311, offers immediate access to a staff member knowledgeable in construction permitting, he said.

St. John’s can look at more performance-based development regulations versus prescriptive code, he said. That allows for less expensive options to meet building requirements.

Regulatory equivalencies are particularly relevant for older spaces, including upper-storey spaces like those found in the downtown, he suggested. He said he wants to encourage use of those spaces plus infill developments on small lots, as chairman of the new downtown advisory committee.

Pulling back on sprawl and finding ways to keep city service and operating costs lower can help taxes in the long run, he said.

On taxes, Lane said the city is trying to reduce spending with a program review at city hall that may take a couple of years.

What he wants to get into in the meantime is anything else council might try, without adding to costs.

He said he expects some ideas to flow from the new business roundtable, struck on the heels of protests around the city’s own budget.

“I want this city to be pro-business,” he said. “I want people to say and know what they mean when they say it: the City of St. John’s is open for business.”

Points on Roadmap 2021

The City of St. John’s has a Strategic Economic Roadmap, “Roadmap 2021,” launched three years ago. A review completed on the plan in 2015 saw additions to the goals, including:

• Seek opportunities to encourage start-ups

• Promote and support cost-effective and open events and activities

• Explore options for publicly available wireless technology

• Explore the development of neighbourhood profiles … supporting inclusive and welcoming communities

• Consider niche areas for targeting industry-development focused conferences and events (eg. Genetics, food industry)

The roadmap, with introductory video, is available in full at: stjohns.ca.

St. John’s Business Information Centre

Walk-ins are welcomed at 348 Water Street. Staff can also be reached at 709-576-8107 or business@stjohns.ca. Online, the city offers information on everything from standard bylaws to how to establish a home-based business. See: stjohns.ca/doing-business

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