Taking a look at cutting red tape is a good start

A broader approach to how the City of Sarnia works to attract business of all sizes would be even better

News that the City of Sarnia is about to embark on a full-scale review of various regulations in every department, the idea being to reduce or eliminate red tape, is a good start and one to be commended.

But there’s an even better way to encourage businesses to choose Sarnia as a place to launch a new business or expand an existing one.

The best hotels in the world do it through a service that’s generically referred to as a “concierge” and the concept, adapted to the City, would likely work well, and for many of the same reasons.

When people come to visit, and the hotel they stay at has the concierge service available, they don’t have to run around to figure things out—basic things that someone who might already live there knows cold.

Basically, the concierge says “don’t worry, we’ll take care of it. Consider it done.”

For the City, and particularly the interactions with a business owner or someone from that business who has the assignment of getting all the things that a business needs to do before they can open the doors, the key to adapting the concierge mentality is just that—being helpful.

“We want you in our community. We’ve set up a special service to help new and existing businesses navigate what we all know needs to be done before you open the doors and we’d like to have someone help you along the way. Would that be okay with you?”

What that doesn’t mean is having the representative of a new or expanding business “figure it out” (my quotes, not to be confused with someone at the City actually saying that).

A “better way” and the one that I’m advocating here is for the City to establish (on a pilot basis) a concierge-style service, perhaps a group of three EXISTING employees (no new hires), reporting to the new CAO.

When someone contacts the City, perhaps initially through one of the existing departments, they get told something like this:

“We want you in our community. We’ve set up a special service to help new and existing businesses navigate what we all know needs to be done before you open the doors and we’d like to have someone help you along the way. Would that be okay with you?”

Those who say “yeah!” get to have a chat with what it is they want to do and the “concierge” works with the individual departments that handle regulations involving Fire, Health (that would mean working with the County), Zoning and so forth.

Unfortunately, and there are numerous stories, admittedly anecdotal, to back this up, there’s a lot of “running around” to the point where businesses, who we really want to make this place their home of choice, get frustrated. Some stick it out. Some go elsewhere.

What we want is to help them discover how inviting Sarnia is to businesses who want to launch and expand.

As I said to one of our civic leaders who agreed with me: “We want them to pay taxes.”

The idea, I think, is worth exploring further. Who wants to start?

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