Even though Athens-Clarke County is growing, we need to do more to help businesses, especially small and emerging businesses, succeed and grow. As a commissioner, I successfully championed efforts to streamline the business permitting process. But there’s more, a lot more, we can do to make it easier for businesses to locate and flourish here. Making sure this happens is so important. We need to, and can do, a better job of building opportunity for Athens residents, as well as retaining talent that emerges from UGA. And, by doing so, we can increase employment at decent wages for local job-seekers. If I’m elected mayor, we’ll do more to help businesses grow and thrive and generate jobs.
As promised, here’s the “how?.” As as a start, I propose this five-point plan:
1. Create a true “one-stop shop” for business permitting. Thanks in part to my efforts, businesses now face a more streamlined process for getting permits. We can do better. Let’s create a process where businesses only have to go to one location–one government office–to deal with all permitting requirements. To make it even more convenient for businesses to navigate local government processes, I will support hiring a full-time business liaison—someone whose only job is to help businesses access local government resources and help them get what they need from government faster. We should also apply the consolidated process developed for commercial projects to residential construction projects.
2. Provide funding to expand capacities of existing tech incubator and small business branding efforts. With Four Athens and AthensMade, we’ve made a good start at helping to retain talent locally in the tech sector and in helping small businesses enhance their local brand identity. I will champion increasing local government cooperation to build-on these efforts. We have to do a better job of supporting our existing local businesses and take better advantage of UGA’s presence as a means to attract new talent and grow.
3. Use tax allocation districts to support creation of new development areas. By identifying promising new areas for development and using the “value capture” mechanism of tax allocation districts to provide needed funding for infrastructure improvements (and for affordable housing), we can create viable business and residential areas throughout the county. We’ll need to be smart about where to locate these areas, but there’s room for growth. We need to be ambitious about this. And I will be.
4. Develop an economic development strategy that emphasizes our core community strengths. Economic development strategies that focus exclusively on giving tax incentives to attract new businesses and tourism miss the mark. Investing in our strengths as a community should be a core part of our economic development strategy. Let’s invest in our local music and arts scene, in making our neighborhoods convenient and affordable, in parks, greenways, sidewalks and bike lanes. It’s a fact that employers want to locate where employees want to live. As Mayor, I’ll champion an economic development strategy that invests in what makes Athens a great place to live.
5. Fund efforts to map and improve land available for business development. Our county has land available for business development, but we can do a better job of helping businesses find it and make it usable. We’re the smallest county land-wise in the state, so we’ve got to maximize what we’ve got. As Mayor, I’ll push ACC to become a leader state-wide in providing businesses with an up-to-date inventory of land that’s available for development.