Smart entrepreneurs and business owners understand that success comes not only from strong internal operations, but also from good relationships with community partners, local authorities, and city leaders. Too often, businesses fail to prioritize municipal relationships or focus solely on customer development.
When deciding to start a business, business owners invest significant time, money and other resources, weighing taxes, infrastructure, accessibility, quality of life and workforce. Once a business opens up, owners can forget the many benefits of their location and therefore miss out on opportunities for growth. By focusing on relationships with city officials, business owners can stay in line with the cities they live in, and maximize the benefits of the cities in which they operate.
Below are some key practices that can allow both businesses and municipalities to flourish:
meet city officials
Whatever the type of business, meeting city employees and officials is beneficial. For example, an architectural firm would be wise to know their city’s engineer or chief building officer, as this relationship can hasten or avoid any problems with the development of residential, commercial or industrial projects. Perhaps a business needs a substantial water or waste service, such as a food packaging plant or recycling operation—knowing the general manager of municipal utilities can help ensure that the city meets a company’s waste or water needs. Have a clear picture, and how best to collaborate to meet those needs.
Small business owners would also be wise to become familiar with the authorities in their chosen city. Today more than ever, council members are actively involved with constituents, sometimes meeting directly with small business owners, or hosting informal meetings in coffee shops or restaurants. Council members should be made aware of what local businesses need to survive and thrive.
Know all relevant rules, regulations and requirements.
It is important that business owners understand city rules and regulations to avoid litigation, which is time-consuming, costly and affects daily operations.
A restaurant owner who wants to build an outdoor seating area should first find out whether special permits are required. A shop owner who wants to expand by adding a second story should first find out whether doing so would violate any zoning laws. A realtor who wants to remove many old trees blocking the front view of the office should find out if the trees are on city property, to avoid potential fines. A comprehensive understanding of city rules and regulations minimizes the risk of citation and litigation.
Understand city goals
Like a business, each city has a unique culture and personality. It is important that business owners understand the city’s goals and the ways they can help them advance. Is the city trying to reduce its carbon footprint by promoting recycling or clean energy? If so, business owners can help themselves and the city by recycling more, lowering energy costs, or using solar or wind power.
Does the city want to preserve its original buildings and architecture for generations to come? Businesses can then have an incentive to expand without taking down the original walls, replacing old light fixtures, or painting over historic murals. Owners should strive to understand the city’s short- and long-term goals, just as they want their own goals to be understood.
Act on all communications
A business owner should never neglect the city. If the city threatens to take legal action, business owners must respond immediately and work to resolve the dispute on the front end.
If a business is cited for not complying with a rule or regulation, the owners must make amends, pay a fine, or file an appeal. Too often business owners will neglect city communications, which is extremely harmful. The relationship between a business and a city should be symbiotic. Issues should be addressed quickly and head-on.
Your business is more than a business. It is more than a restaurant, bar, salon, shop or firm. This is where you spend most of each day. It is the product of your hard work, hopes and dreams. This is your life. With a little extra time and attention, businesses can really flourish in their local communities. A cordial business-city relationship can bring tremendous benefits to business leadership, employees, and customers.
Damien Northcutt is a litigant and a member of Best Best & Krieger LLP’s Business Practice Group. His practice focuses on all stages of pre-trial litigation in matters relating to business, real estate and property litigation, and health care law. Damian works closely with private companies and public entities to find quick resolutions to challenging business disputes. He can be contacted at [email protected]