Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Pro-Growth Cities

In tough economic times like today, it is important that cities encourage continued business growth. It can be difficult to achieve this, but one way is to avoid passing new ordinances that make it harder for businesses to expand.

I live in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The recession took a while to hit our area, but the inevitable has occurred. As is the case across the nation, growth has slowed, and jobs have been lost. One would think that the city leaders would be doing everything they could to reverse that trend, and they are to a degree, but you would be surprised at some of the things city leaders can overlook.

For example, in January of this year, the city council passed an ordinance effectively banning metal buildings from being built, unless the metal facade was covered in brick or some other material (or unless the structure is built in areas zoned agricultural, industrial, or for mobile homes).

Most metal buildings are constructed by businesses for one simple reason: they are relatively cheap to build. A metal building is significantly lower in cost and faster in build time than conventional construction.

One of the main reasons for this is that metal buildings are not very pretty. What is forgotten is that today's metal structures can be accessorized with various forms of facades or wainscots (which should be left up to the owner, not forced on them by government). Muskogee's leaders have, in recent years, been a little obsessed with making the town look nice, to the detriment of existing business. Another example of this was the portable sign ban ordinance that was struck down by the courts a few years back. And for another instance, see my post from June, when a rezoning request from a small businessman was denied.

In the midst of economic turmoil not seen in decades, municipal leaders in my town are more concerned about how the city looks than about economic growth. A town can look as nice as possible, but still be dead economically.

The council recently pushed for, and the voters passed, a sales tax increase (which mainly dealt with infrastructure improvements, with a bit of "pork", if you will). As a result, a businessman friend of mine now has his orders shipped to his property in the country, which saves him a lot of money since it is located outside the city limits.

Just a few miles to the east, the small town of Fort Gibson takes a different perspective. Fort Gibson does not charge some construction-related fees that most cities do. The town has had substantial growth for several years, which might not be a total coincidence.

Cities would do well to enact pro-growth measures, and eliminate hurdles to growing business in their town, especially when dealing with small business. In a time of recession, this is not an option - it's a must.

Cross-posted at Cities of Vision - a think tank for cities.


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