New Business-Friendly Initiatives Announced in ColumbiaJun 13, 2022 05:55PM ● By David Dykes
By C. Grant Jackson
Establishing, building and growing a business – especially a small business – should be easier across Columbia with city officials unveiling six “Business Friendly Initiatives.”
The initiatives were launched by Mayor Daniel Rickenmann and other city officials at a media event June 13, 2022, at The War Mouth restaurant in the Noma Trestle business district as part of an effort to show that steps are being taken to help businesses across Columbia, not just in better known commercial districts like Main Street, the Vista and Devine Street.
City Manager Teresa Wilson lauded officials and city employees for their common sense and practical approach to ensuring that conditions are right for businesses to grow.
The initiatives range from eliminating roadblocks to growth by existing businesses to creating “a new focus on attracting investment and opportunities and support for small businesses.’’
One major initiative is "taking a whole new look at economic development and how we operate here,” said City Councilman Joe Taylor, chair of the council’s economic and community development committee.
The city intends to hire full-time economic development recruiters who will specialize in urban economic development, bringing in businesses like hotels, restaurants, call centers and corporate offices, Taylor said.
But launching the business friendly initiatives is just a beginning.
“We’re not done yet,” Rickenmann said. “We want to encourage more economic growth. We want to have more people living in the city center,” he said, noting that while Greenville and Charleston have 9,000 to 10,000 people living downtown, Columbia has about 3,000.
“This is step one and we are going to continue to work.”The initiatives, as outlined by Taylor, include:
1. Eliminating Water and Sewer Change Fees When a commercial property is redeveloped for a different use, this fee can often amount to as much as $35,000 to $45,000, Taylor said. “I can tell you from a personal perspective that I have watched people walk away from hospitality opportunities because of this.”
2. Simplifying New Business License Applications and Renewals The city will no longer require applicants to show personal or business income tax returns to obtain or renew a business license. And in a major step, the entire application or renewal process should be online by the fourth quarter of this year, officials said.
3, Providing Flexibility and Financial Assistance for Grease Capture Costs
Installing a grease trap is often a major cost for new restaurant development. The city is pledging to work to approve the best option, not the most expensive, for the project’s needs.
“We have a history of requiring grease traps that sometimes can cost as much as $75,000 to $100,000,” Taylor said. “That is a deal stopper for small businesses.”
In addition, the city will offer a reimbursable loan program to offset up to 50 percent of grease capture costs up to $10,000.
4. Eliminating On-Site Parking RequirementsDropping the onsite parking requirement for commercial or retail buildings up to 75,000 square feet drew applause from the assemblage of business owners, city officials and economic developers. Taylor proclaimed that Columbia could “cease to be a city of parking lots.”
5. Making Renovations and Remodeling of Existing Buildings Simpler
Businesses will no longer need to meet current landscape requirements for redevelopment, which in the past has meant sometime removing existing parking spaces.
“These changes are vital to the growth of the city’s economic base,” said Jean Cecil Frick, chair of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
“We all want to foster an environment that allows existing businesses to expand, while also creating an environment that welcomes new businesses. These initiatives are another reminder that the city of Columbia is open for business.”