Over the past two weeks, I had many conversations with business owners, developers, and restaurant owners and learned about the many challenges they face in opening and operating in Richmond. It is the blood, sweat, and tears poured into our city by these creative, ambitious, and determined entrepreneurs that has created the vibrant food and culture scene, which has made Richmond a top 10 destination in the country. But, that’s not without its challenges and struggles, mostly in dealing with City Hall. I heard horrible stories:
- Permits getting lost in the black hole of departments with no expectation of finding the light of day, creating months of delay and wasted money
- Tax payments having to be made in-person to avoid the credit card transaction fee only to get lost in processing and have a late-fee attached.
City Hall needs to welcome our entrepreneurial visionaries with open arms, fast-tracking applications, licenses, permits, and whatever else is needed to get them operating. The sooner we get investment into opening new businesses, the quicker we can let them open, create jobs, generate new revenues, and further strengthen our place as a destination in the US. I am committed to making Richmond a 21st Century City by supporting a Pro-Business Strategy that embraces modern services and operations of City Hall.
Monday night, I made a public commitment to advance several initiatives to make Richmond more business friendly.
- Online services: It is 2018. You run your business online, and you should be able to set up, operate, and pay your taxes in the City of Richmond online, as well. From applying for or renewing your business license to paying your Business, Professional, Occupational License (or BPOL), Prepared Meals, or other local taxes, we must have these services available to be submitted online. It is my commitment to bring these services into the 21st century for Richmond.
- Tax Payment Discount: Businesses pay around a 3% fee on each credit card transaction made by customers. Included in that amount is the tax being paid to the City. Therefore, businesses are paying additional money to capture the taxes they owe to the City. As many businesses operate on a very thin margin in order to be competitive with costs and prices, this additional fee needs to be refunded. Both Henrico and Chesterfield offer a discount or refund that equals the credit card transaction fee back to the businesses. I commit to working with the Administration to institute the policies and processes needed to discount tax payments made to the City for taxes collected by our local businesses.
- Loosen Parking Restrictions: Richmond is fast becoming multi-modal. The new BRT/Pulse route down Broad Street will begin operating later this year as part of our new GRTC network plan. Bike lanes are fast becoming part of our street landscape and businesses are continually requesting bike racks for customers to park their bikes while they visit. In an effort to encourage modern density as supported by these efforts along with the proliferation of ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft, and UZURV, the need for parking requirements for businesses must change. Our strict parking requirements for opening a business have created a backlash, as many surface parking lots are often double, triple, and quadruple leased to neighboring businesses. This does nothing to address the parking solution this rule is trying to address. I am all for protecting neighborhoods from customers that visit businesses and parking in residential areas, but our businesses should not have to shoulder this burden. I commit to drafting policies to reduce the burden of parking requirements for opening businesses as part of the citywide rezoning in the Richmond 300.
- Streamline Permitting: Whenever a permit gets lost in the black hole of City Hall, it often ends up in a stack of papers on someone’s desk waiting to get reviewed or processed. At no point should a business owner not know the status of their permit. Permits are driven by the desire to invest in our City, and we should make this process as streamlined, clean, and simple as possible. Sure, delays may happen, but they should be able to be found, processed, and followed up quickly by the owner. I am going to pursue implementing best practices such as Harvard’s 21st Century Streamlined Permitting recommendations and an Audit of this service will be conducted this year.
- RVA Business Portal: This is not the first time I have shared this, but we must coordinate and organize all the steps it takes to open and run a business in the City in one simple online website. We must take a page out of San Francisco’s book. Their Online Business Portal was created by a local small business and designed to meet 21st Century expectations for access to information, data, and forms. I will fight to make this information available online in RVA.
These are only the beginning. There are many ways in which we need to improve City Hall’s relationship with our small businesses, and the time is now to make these changes. These aren’t just for improving businesses; they are improving our reputation with the business community, showing we are “Open for Business.” I am going to further demand that City Hall bring outside businesses and firms to address these concerns, designing the creative solutions we expect in 2018. Many of the ideas mentioned above have fallen on deaf ears during my eight-year career working in City Hall. You cannot expect a government employee that has never opened or run a business to understand the complicated, frustrating, and money-wasting issues entrepreneurs face in just trying to open their doors. I commit to lead these initiatives to support and strengthen our small business, startup, and entrepreneur succeed.