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Business Friendly Howell initiative unveiled

OFB-BIGAn unusual partnership between government and business resulted in the Business Friendly Howell initiative, unveiled Nov. 20 at the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce. The plan aims to create a collaborative, transparent partnership between the city, business owners, property owners and the chamber.

An “Open for Business: Howell, Michigan” logo was also unveiled, as well as a “Starting a Business in Howell” brochure, which will be available throughout the community and distributed to many points of contact, including to Realtors and developers.

The initiative came about in response to the perception that Howell operated on a “we know best” mentality, and was unfriendly to business. The Howell chamber’s Community Development Committee, led by chairperson and business owner Glynis McBain, joined with the city to work with a facilitator and kick off a series of focus groups for business and property owners in which there was no city or chamber representation.

The goal was to learn how businesses perceive the city; improve how the city interacts with businesses; improve policies that govern doing business in the city; and create an environment of transparency and collaboration.

In the end, several themes emerged from the frank feedback of over 50 people, including that they felt the property tax assessment process was unfair, arbitrary and a disincentive to doing business in Howell; that they did not understand the role of Howell’s Downtown Development Authority, including how it is funded and how it works; and that they were frustrated with the city’s building/permitting process.

The focus groups also revealed that stakeholders felt there was often a disconnect between stakeholders and city staff and elected officials.

This feedback guided the development of the Business Friendly Howell initiative. The city is publishing and distributing important materials and information online and in print, including the action plan and the “Starting a Business in Howell” brochure. It is continue to work on streamlining its ordinances and procedures. Customer service and cross-training of city workers begins in January, and the city is developing a system to track customer interactions.

In addition, the city has created a single point of contact for anyone planning to open or expand a business in Erin Perdu, the city’s community development director. Perdu will shepherd people through the process.

The Business Friendly Howell report is the “start of a much-longer initiative,” according to Howell City Manager Shea Charles, one that will continue to grow and evolve through continued dialogue with business owners, property owners and the chamber, and regular surveying of the city’s customers.

To read the Business Friendly Howell report, click here.

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