2012-04-13 / Community

City officials consider whether to be ‘business friendly’

By Kristy Wagner
Staff Writer

The South Portland City Council is questioning the value of becoming a statecertified business-friendly community.

Gov. Paul LePage announced the Certified Business-Friendly Community Program in early March as a tool to attract more business, promote job creation and encourage economic development.

The council voted 7-0 at an April 2 meeting to go through with obtaining the no-cost certification from the state, but council members questioned the value of declaring the city is “open for business” on paper, when increased economic development and advancement in recent years speaks for itself.

“The benefit is, we can identify ourselves as open for business,” said Erik Carson, director of economic and community development. “I feel confident that we are open for business and that we will get certified.”

Councilor Maxine Beecher said she would vote in favor of submitting the application to the state, but she was unsure of how identifying the city as open for business was beneficial.

“I don’t know how useful this is going to be, but I think that simply putting it in black and white says you will do it, so I think there is some real value there,” Beecher said.

Carson said during the application process municipalities are scored on four criteria for business friendliness. Areas include customer service, product, and capacity, which are worth 30 points, local business involvement and collaboration, worth 30 points, application support letters for 15 points, and licensing and permitting for 25 points.

“The main purpose (of the application) is to show how we make business happen, how we allow business to happen and how we encourage business to happen,” Carson said.

Carson added that rural communities have used items like the new businessfriendly certification to get more points in the Community Development Block Grant program. The CDBG program is federally funded and was founded in 1974 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide safe and sanitary housing and economic opportunities to low- and moderate-income families and individuals.

“(Augusta) accepts applications quarterly and I felt we needed to jump on this first round,” Carson said.

Carson said applications are sent to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, where scoring will be done by officials in the business division.

“The scoring pattern is pretty typical of the state branch and very typical of the CDBG program,” Carson said. “So I think there was an element of that built into this.”

Councilor Jerry Jalbert said he was not wholly convinced of the value of the new program.

“I don’t understand what the point is,” he said. “In the city of South Portland we have done a lot and had tremendous development over the decades and it is very diverse.”

Jalbert asked Carson what type of credit the city would receive other than a document and a sign stating it is “open for business.”

“We get bragging rights—that’s probably the high point of this,” Carson said. “We really are pro-business.”

Carson added that South Portland is careful about the types of businesses it welcomes and he mentioned that of 27 zoning districts in the city, there are 17 zoned strictly for business.

Councilor Tom Blake said he would support the submission of the application, but he was not enthusiastic about it.

What a community does is more important than what a document says it does, Blake said.

Councilor Tom Coward shared Blake’s opinion.

“I think this is sort of a report card or a diploma on what we have been doing,” Coward said. “We have been on the bandwagon here as long as I have been on the council. Southern Maine is the economic powerhouse of the state.”

Mayor Patricia Smith said she thinks applying to be a certified business-friendly community was a positive move for the city as long as the certification “helps us move our city forward.”

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