A Bad Place to do Business

According to city managers I’ve spoken with over the years, their town is the worst place in the state to do business.  I know, of course, that other city managers’ cities can’t be the worst because my city has that distinction.  The problem seems to be that whenever someone is told about an unexpected cost, delay, or prohibition, they draw the conclusion that whoever is bearing the bad tidings represents the worst possible place.

I share some of the frustration of people who encounter regulatory roadblocks because I frequently see city projects made more expensive or held up for similar reasons.  I sometimes wish I could pick which rules I choose to obey.  It would be far cheaper and easier to ignore zoning laws, building codes, and other development regulations.  I have learned, however, that there are negative consequences associated with breaking the rules even when you are trying hard to observe them.  I am still learning about state election rules, for example.

My attitude toward regulations is to try and help people work through whatever difficulties they have with city requirements and figure out a way to accomplish their goals.  Sometimes we are able to do that by providing direct assistance with economic development or urban renewal funds while in other cases we are able to come up with a better plan for achieving the desired result.  I also know there are times when no compromise works.

I have written before about the best example of the need for inflexibility I have seen, where a city building official and our fire marshal almost certainly saved the lives of a family of four by refusing to back down on requirements related to living above a business.  The business owner was infuriated about code requirements for expensive additions such a fire sprinkler system and another set of stairs.  The cost of these improvements was apparently too high, so the owner and his family were forced to rent a conventional house.  The fire he said would never happen eventually burned his business (a hardware store with paints, solvents, etc.) to the ground in a very short amount of time.

Enforcing building codes and other development regulations should not mean that our town is the worst place in Oregon to do business.  We have spent a substantial amount of money buying more software to better accommodate builders, and we have granted or loaned large sums to encourage projects in difficult locations.  These examples are frequently overlooked when someone hears a story about supposedly ridiculous rules the City is enforcing.  Critics do not see, as I do, the many thank-you notes we regularly receive for the work of our planners, building inspectors, permit techs, and engineers in helping to make new development possible.  I greatly appreciate this good work and the helpful attitude of all employees engaged in this demanding work.  We can take some comfort from the knowledge that every city will be viewed as the worst place to do business at one time or another.