Doing Economic Development at the Speed of Business Key to Cities’ Success

Article by Kerry Smith, Informationworks

Site selectors, commercial real estate brokers and economic development professionals agree that successful development occurs when municipalities are willing to work at the speed of business. Steve Zuber, principal at commercial and industrial brokerage firm BARBERMURPHY, says the cities and regions that “get it” are those who own their identity.

“The communities that get it are the ones that have a vision for what they want, where they want to be and who they want to be, from top to bottom,” said Zuber, “from the mayor to the city administrator/manager, economic development director, planning, zoning and city council. All these people need to be in lock step with each other as to what they’re trying to attract…then when there’s an opportunity, they’re able to react quickly, have all their ducks in a row (zoning, incentives) and get it done quickly. If they can work at the speed of business without taking an exorbitant amount of bureaucratic time to approve something, they’ll likely be much more successful.”

Time is money, Zuber says, yet too many communities don’t understand this. Redevelopment agreements, incentives packages, potential site variances, special use permits and rezoning are examples of processes that can take a long time to gain approval. Cities that know how to expedite these processes are the ones that often keep developers and site selectors engaged, he adds.

The City of O’Fallon, IL understands this. With a population of 31,000, the city sits 18 miles east of downtown St. Louis and five miles from Scott Air Force Base. O’Fallon’s pro-business mayoral leadership spanning 28 years (under former Mayor Gary Graham and current Mayor Herb Roach) exemplifies the practice of working in lock step to attract appropriate development. Roach began serving as mayor after a 43-year career in international business and banking.

“Nobody is going to want to come in and develop if you don’t have a good, solid infrastructure, if your streets are torn up or your water/sewer lines are unreliable,” Roach said. “Companies also want to locate in safe communities and in ones with excellent school districts. A business wants to know there’s an educated workforce that’s available for hiring. All of these are critical factors in a community’s identity. To attract the development that suits your community, you must know who you are and proactively, consistently reflect that identity to others.”