Cities and towns offer smooth sailing for businesses

‚ÄčLexington County-based software company Avtec Inc. was growing so fast the company quickly ran out of room at its Gilbert office, requiring staff to operate out of two different facilities.

To support its growth, company officials constructed a $7.5 million, 46,300 square-foot office space on a new site in Lexington. The two-year project was a major undertaking with numerous obstacles. One thing that went smoothly, however, was working with the Town of Lexington, according to Avtec Chief Executive Officer Michael Branning.

When it came time for getting permitting for the building, the company's director of administration "popped out for the afternoon and got it done," Branning said.

Avtec Inc.
Avtec Inc., Lexington

"The town has been extremely responsive," he added.

That's the kind of response Lexington officials are pleased to hear from business owners. It's all part of an effort Lexington officials have made to streamline their licensing and permitting processes and be more business-friendly.

Back in September 2010, town officials made changes to create a "one-stop shop" for businesses. Planning, building, zoning, licensing and utility officials are now located in one central spot, and a concierge official helps guide business people through the process, according to Town Administrator Britt Poole. "The proximity of all these departments creates efficiency," Poole explained.

The change came about when Poole, former director of the Planning, Building and Technology Department, noticed how people would come in to meet with a permit clerk then have to be escorted to another floor to meet with someone from utilities.

"They were hiking two miles to get their permits," Poole said. "It was ridiculous."

With the permitting process simplified, setting up shop in Lexington was "smooth sailing," according to Branning.

In Mauldin, accounting firm Scott + Company purchased property, but its intended use was out of compliance with the city's zoning code, according to Upstate Managing Member Hunter Howard. The site was an industrial property that was close to a residential area. It needed to be rezoned from light industrial to commercial.

Mauldin city officials help guide businesses through the zoning and permitting process.

It was a controversial change for the Upstate community. City officials suggested the company hold a public meeting to explain how the facility would be used and what changes would be made. "City staff helped us set up the meeting. They also helped guide our staff through the rezoning and permitting processes," Howard said.

City staff's assistance through the process was invaluable, Howard said. Most notable was the help of a city staff member whose job it was to facilitate the permitting process.

Mauldin officials have made a number of improvements to its business and development services, according to Mauldin City Administrator Trey Eubanks.

Developers now are invited to schedule pre-application meetings with representatives from departments including building, fire, zoning and public works. City staff members also meet with applicants in the field to walk through their existing building or site to identify problem areas then offer guidance on code compliance.

Mauldin's Business and Development Services Department now takes in all fees, applications and plan reviews for all city departments involved in a permit review. Previously, customers had to deliver their plans to individual departments for review. The Development Services staff also tracks and monitors the projects during the permitting process so developers have a single resource point for the status of their reviews and permits. Previously, no tracking was done at all, Eubanks said.

By increasing its staffing, Mauldin officials also have made improvements on the turnaround time to review permits and applications. A permitting facilitator is responsible for handling simple business license upgrades and renewals. Mauldin officials installed a separate phone line and created an email address specifically to handle business license questions and concerns, Eubanks said.

Additionally, the city is deploying new permit software this spring that will make it easier to "do business" with the City of Mauldin, he said.

Poole, Branning, Eubanks and Howard participated in a panel discussion at the 2015 Hometown Legislative Action Day on the importance of coordinating licensing and permitting to make cities more business friendly and attractive to economic development.