By Cheri Rae
Addressed to our small, family publishing business, the letter was signed by the city’s Economic Development Manager. Unfortunately, it wasn’t from anyone promoting business development in Santa Barbara but in Henderson, Nevada. He wanted to know if we would consider relocating, bringing our business with us.
I’m sure Henderson is a nice place to live—and certainly cheaper to do business—but, for the record I wouldn’t want to live there. Santa Barbara is our home, even though most of our publishing colleagues have moved far away in order to keep their businesses thriving.
A few years ago, it was officials in a small town in Colorado making the same kind of offer, including favorable tax rates, negotiable rents and plenty of official assistance. It was very tempting to think about trading in the Pacific Coast for the Rocky Mountains, but in the end, we decided to stay where our roots had been planted for years.
Back here at home though, the only communication our business has ever received from anyone in the City of Santa Barbara—where we have operated for more than two decades—is an annual invoice for our business license and a tax bill for our computers.
A quick comparison between the websites for Henderson and Santa Barbara reveals a real difference in the two cities’ approach to businesses. The Henderson website—which interestingly features the Mayor striding across the screen while offering a very pleasant video welcome—indicates a very business-friendly, strategic approach from the Economic Development/Redevelopment Manger. That’s right—the same guy who’s responsible for the Redevelopment efforts is also the one who heads up their Economic Development efforts.
Now that Redevelopment is passé in California, it’s a bit of a moot point, but considering all the organizations that benefited from the millions and millions of RDA funds, I don’t remember hearing much of anything about the City making investments in the local business community, assisting local small business owners, or attracting others to bring their businesses here.
In fact, we got just the opposite. Our city’s economic development plan seems to have been focused on supporting a wide array of non-profits that serve the down-and-out. If there has been a proactive effort to entice small business owners to relocate to encourage economic diversity and vitality, I sure missed it.
Back to the websites: a careful look at Santa Barbara’s website reveals the first line of the business section, “Starting a business is a difficult decision at best.” Not exactly encouraging. It then proceeds to list a bunch of information about taxes, permits, zoning, regulations and licensing. Information about assistance to local businesses is sparse at best—and there’s no sense at all that the city has a business outreach program of any kind.
Henderson’s, by contrast, offers information about city-sponsored programs that link local businesses with representatives from City Council—including opportunities for visitation by them, and several other business incentives.
Of course, housing costs and tax rates between the two cities are not comparable—and Henderson is much bigger than Santa Barbara. But still, there’s something innovative, interesting and very instructional about a municipality getting to work by spreading the word that it’s open for business, and pretty friendly about it, too