Thursday, October 31, 2019

Simplifying Business Licensing

Business licenses are a critical source of revenue to cities and towns in South Carolina. The considerable majority of the state’s municipalities — 234 of the total 271 — require licenses for businesses to operate within their boundaries. In most municipalities, somewhere from a quarter to half of general fund revenue comes from business licenses, helping to pay for the many local government services that facilitate living and working in a city— things like public safety, sanitation, planning or recreation. 

At the same time, business licenses can be frustrating when a business operates in multiple cities with different licensure processes. There could be multiple due dates and measurement periods, or different ways of calculating revenue. Those variances can lead to interest in making significant legislative changes to business licensing that can dramatically damage cities’ and towns’ ability to deliver the services that residents expect. Most recently, H4431 was introduced late in the 2019 legislative session, and the bill will still be active in the 2020 session. 

Standardization across jurisdictions can help replace frustration with a fair process that makes doing business within multiple cities easier. The Municipal Association has been working on business license standardization for years. In 2014, the Association created the Standardized Business License Application, designed to more easily meet the needs of businesses operating in multiple cities and towns. Many municipal and county governments have adopted the standard application, as seen in this list

Beyond the application, there’s more that municipalities are doing to make the process easier for businesses. Cities and towns are adopting the most current model business license ordinance, calculating business licenses taxes based on either the previous calendar year or the business’ fiscal year, and adopting the standard period for business license effectiveness and the standard due date of April 30. 

There’s plenty of additional information available on business licensing and standardization: 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Incremental Downtown District Changes Highlighted at Main Street SC Training

by Jenny Boulware, Main Street SC Manager 

Over the years, multiple city and community leaders in Orangeburg have evoked the idea of “cathedral thinking.” Given the length of time needed to build a grand and ornate cathedral, the individual builders and artisans involved were people who went to work knowing they were unlikely to ever live to see the finished product — but every step involved was one step closer to the goal. 

This idea came up again during Main Street South Carolina’s recent fourth quarter training session in downtown Orangeburg, where Main Street staff from around the state received a welcome from City Administrator John Yow, and learned about local projects from Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association Executive Director Candice Roberson — most notably the construction of the new farmers market pavilion. Candice elaborated on several of the projects in a podcast recorded after the end of the session
The group toured the under-construction farmers market pavilion on Russell Street in downtown Orangeburg. 

The group also heard from Hillary Howard, executive director of Conway Alive, who discussed principles she has learned about relationship-building with downtown merchants and boards, as well as program management. She described the institutional knowledge that a downtown development director develops over time as priceless. While Conway Alive has increased its number of events over the years, the events are all now dollar-positive promotions with the primary aim of driving people into the individual businesses. 
The Orangeburg meeting was the last of the quarterly trainings for the year, following earlier meetings in Columbia, Williamston as well as Aiken and North Augusta. 

The training also featured a grant panel including the Downtown Camden program, Main Street Bennettsville and Main Street Kingstree. The participants discussed their goals and experiences with specific grant projects, and several themes emerged. First, aggressively pursuing grants can be a great way for any downtown program to develop diversity in funding. Additionally, there’s value in establishing goals ahead of time, rather than simply going after every grant opportunity that presents itself. Instead, programs should ideally decide on either specific projects or on focus areas for grant funding, like walkability or recreation. 

South Carolina’s history of coordinated and sustained downtown revitalization programs has many people noticing significant, positive changes in one downtown district or another. Still, changes are incremental, and it’s easy to become discouraged. This last Main Street SC training highlighted ways that communities can keep pushing for more vibrant downtowns and the results that can follow.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Communications Workshop to Discuss Economic Development Messaging, Branding

Economic development is a critical conversation in any municipality. What the public perceives and discusses about the economic prospects of a community drives decisions about where they are going to live, work or visit. 

The upcoming Communications Workshop at the offices of the Municipal Association of SC on October 29 is going to dig into this topic with a panel discussion of several municipal staff members from around the state talking about how they spread the word about their own economic development success stories. This is an area that came up in a social media panel discussion at the Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting in July, as described in this Uptown story. Numerous cities and towns in South Carolina have been able to boost stories about their ongoing economic development pushes through social media, sometimes even drawing attention to development trends before local media outlets really latch onto the story. 

Another session at the Communications Workshop will cover the visual elements of communication — the techniques that local government communicators can use when creating photo or video content to make their messages more understandable and interesting to their audience. Every year, the Municipal Association employs visual language in the video series that accompanies all of the Achievement Award winners around the state

One of the 2019 award winners, the City of Goose Creek, received its award for a project to create a new official branding for the city as well as an economic development communications campaign. Another session at the Communications Workshop will touch on this issue: “Branding and Marketing Your Town as a Destination for Visitors,” led by Kelly Barbrey of Experience Columbia SC. 

The workshop is designed both for municipal public information officers as well as anyone else with a role in local government communications. Attendee space is limited, and the deadline to register is Friday, October 18 at 5 p.m. See registration information for the workshop.