Best in Law: Tips for Better Business-City Relations
How Businesses Can Foster and Leverage Positive Municipal Relationships
By Damian Northcutt
Smart entrepreneurs and business owners understand that success comes not only from strong internal operations but also through good relationships with community partners, local officials and city leaders. Too often, businesses overlook or fail to prioritize municipal relations and focus only on client growth.
When deciding where to launch a business, business owners invest a significant amount of time, money and other resources, weighing taxes, infrastructure, access, quality of life and workforce. Once a business opens, however, owners may forget the many benefits of their location and therefore miss opportunities for growth. By focusing on relationships with city officials, business owners can remain in tune with, 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:
Get to know city officials
No matter the type of business, it is beneficial to meet city employees and officials. For instance, an architectural firm would be wise to get to know their city engineer or chief building official, as this relationship may expedite or avoid any problems with the development of residential, commercial or industrial projects. Perhaps a business requires substantial water or waste service, such as a food packaging plant or recycling operation — knowing the general manager of municipal utilities may help ensure that the city has a clear picture of the company’s waste or water needs, and how best to collaborate to meet those needs.
Small business owners would also be wise to become acquainted with their elected city officials. Today more than ever, councilmembers are actively involved with constituents, sometimes meeting directly with small business owners, or hosting informal meetings at coffee shops or restaurants. Councilmembers should be made aware of what local businesses need to survive and thrive.
Learn all pertinent rules, regulations and expectations
It’s important that business owners understand city rules and regulations to avoid litigation, which is time-consuming, costly and impacts daily operations.
A restauranteur who wants to create an outdoor seating area should first check to find out if special permits are required. A shop owner who wants to expand by adding a second story should first find out if doing so will violate any zoning laws. A Realtor who wants to remove several old trees blocking the office view front should find out if the trees are on city property, so as to avoid a potential fine. A comprehensive understanding of city rules and regulations decreases the risk of citations and litigation.
Understand the city’s goals
Similar to a business, each city has a unique culture and personality. It is crucial that business owners understand city goals and ways in which they may help to advance them. 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, reducing energy costs, or using solar or wind power.
Does the city want to preserve its original buildings and architecture for future generations? Then businesses may find incentives to expand without knocking down original walls, changing vintage light fixtures or painting over historical 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 ignore the city. If the city threatens to take legal action, business owners should respond immediately and work to resolve the dispute on the front end.
If a business is cited for not following a rule or regulation, owners should make the correction, pay the fine or file an appeal. All too often business owners will ignore city communications, which is hugely detrimental. The relationship between a business and city should be symbiotic. Issues should be addressed early and head-on.
Your business is more than a business. It is more than a single restaurant, bar, salon, shop or firm. It is where you likely spend most of every day. It is the product of your hard work, hopes and dreams. It is your life. With just a bit of extra time and focus, businesses can truly flourish in their local communities. Harmonious business-city relations can allow for tremendous benefits to business leadership, employees and clientele.
This article first appeared in The Press Enterprise and other Southern California Newspaper Group publications online on October 2, 2021. Republished with permission.