Attracting business a recurring theme on city’s to-do list | News | The Press and Standard

by | February 19, 2016 5:00 pm

Last Updated: February 17, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Economic development pops up again and again on Walterboro officials’ to-do list for this year.
At city council’s Feb. 9 meeting City Manager Jeff Molinari offered a short report on the six priorities council members identified during their recent Strategic Planning Retreat. Four of the six issues have an economic development factor.
The six priorities identified by council members were: business development, substandard buildings, annexation, police body cameras, entryways and city boards and commissions.
First, Walterboro city council members want to make the permitting process more user friendly for current and prospective businesses.
Molinari said during the council’s 2016 Strategic Planning Retreat council members “talked about taking a closer look at our permitting process and potentially revising the process as needed to make it more friendly for people doing business with the city.
“We also discussed the possibility of having someone (currently on the city staff) work with businesses and prospective businesses,” he explained, “Someone who knows the process and can walk someone through it would be beneficial,” Molinari said.
Molinari said efforts to make the process easier would be tied to other changes being planned for this year.
He said the city’s plans to expand soon into the former First Federal Bank building located adjacent to the City Hall complex will help address one problem that can make the permitting process cumbersome.
“Typically, someone who comes in to do business with the city — to pull a permit, pay a business license or whatever — is coming into a City Hall with not a lot of room, it is very cramped.”
“When we move to the bank building, that is really going to help us because we are going to have more room,” Molinari said. “Instead of having to come here and do one thing and then go next door to pay the business license, you will be able to do everything under one roof.”
A trip to City Hall complex isn’t the only visit the city officials want to make easier. City officials hope to make a virtual visit to city government easier for businesses and the general public.
“Our web site is going to be revamped to be more user friendly,” Molinari said. “The way the information is presented to the public is going to be as easy as possible.”
Under business development, Molinari added, the conversation also focused on “potentially assisting owners of vacant buildings in securing tenants.”
The boards and commissions priority also finds economic development popping up. The over-all plan is to gather all the information on the city’s boards and commissions into one document and then have that information available to residents on the website.
The ultimate goal is to attract city residents as volunteers to serve on the various governmental bodies.
The city wants “a handy guide that defines each board of commission on the website. We are always looking for volunteers,” Molinari said. “The timing is good with the overhauling of the web site, it gives us the perfect opportunity to pull this together.”
As part of that work, he added, the city wants to revisit its Economic Development Commission.
Molinari pointed out that some of the city’s state-mandated boards and commissions, groups like the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, have their “roles and responsibilities clearly defined by state statute.”
That’s not the case with the city’s Economic Development Commission. “It is an advisory board of city council,” Molinari explained, “but the terms of their specific role and purpose have never been clearly defined. When we had an economic development director, that person used to work closely with the economic development commission and keep them up to speed on what was going on with the different projects,” Molinari said.
The city employee eventually given the assignment of assisting with the permitting process, he suggested, might also assume the duty of serving as a liaison with commission.
Another item on the priority list, substandard buildings, has an economic development twist.
“We are looking at doing an inventory of vacant buildings, identifying and prioritizing the buildings that are in the worst condition,” says Molinari.
Molinari envisions himself, the planning director and the building inspector creating the inventory. He pointed out that all three of the officials already have a good understanding of where the substandard buildings are. “It is just a matter of putting all that information together.”
Those officials, he added, would be “paying particular attention to the boundaries and entryways and trying to enhance those areas.”
The other priority, entryways, is a companion to substandard building, as it relates to the city’s approaches. “There is some overlap there,” Molinari said.
Real estate salesmen look at the curbside appeal a property might have for prospective purchasers. The entrances to a city offer that same first impression to visitors.
Look at the appearance of the main entrances, Molinari suggests, and think about “What kind of impact does that have on the impression they have of Walterboro?”
“We have looked at clearing brush, removing trash, coordinating with the county from a code enforcement standpoint to try and enhance those areas,” Molinari said.
“From an economic development standpoint, the better impression that we create as people come into the city, the more it is going to benefit both the city and the county,” Molinari said. “We both have a shared goal of making Walterboro as attractive as we can, especially from an economic development standpoint.”

By GEORGE SALSBERRY
gsalsberry@lowcountry.com

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