In January 2018, then-City of Vancouver Councilor George Affleck passed a motion to review small business policies and programs, and create a high-level "Small Business Policy Council" to advise City Council on strategic priorities relating to small business. One year later, today the City of Vancouver gathered a number of businesses and some representatives of businesses (BIAs, LOCO BC, Women's Enterprise Centre) on a Small Business Roundtable, to discuss key challenges, to hear what the City could be doing to support small business, and to provide updates on current small business support at the City. The Mayor was in attendance for the beginning of the event, and there was an impressive group of City staff at the event, including the heads of most pertinent departments. Attendees were split into discussion tables, and we discussed key challenges, and ideas on what the City can do as part of new or existing initiatives.
For our table taxation was the #1 issue, followed by the impact (decreased foot traffic or displacement) on business of development and infrastructure upgrades. Permit wait times, finding and retaining qualified employees and difficulty in financing growth were also discussed.
The main themes discussed related to permitting/licensing/inspection, taxation and the availability of space.
Lowering the commercial tax rate to reduce the tax burden on small business was one of the main ideas discussed at our table. We also discussed rethinking where density is located in City plans, to decrease the amount of increased value and resultant displacement of commercial businesses. Finally, many businesses felt that City processes were inflexible and didn't reflect or respond well to a quickly changing economy. They felt the City should align its processes to be more flexible and responsive to co-location, new business types, allowing multiple uses like office, light manufacturing and retail all in the same space, etc. Lastly, our group felt that there should be some accountability at the City for the level of service for cost of business services. We discussed having some goals set for time limits on permits, licensing and other standard approvals. Other tables had the following ideas:
- Provide real support for business - show pro-business in action with improved process, aligned regulations
- Implement a cap on commercial property tax increases imposed by the City
- Eliminate double checking by the City of professionals required on approvals to open a business (e.g. architects, engineers, etc.)
- Allow temporary use for small business on vacant City properties undergoing rezoning and development (e.g. Little Mountain)
- Simplify regulations, use flexible definitions
- Streamline City processes, improve regulatory clarity
The City says that it will produce a report from the Roundtable, which it will provide back to participants, and to Council. It sought participants interest in getting together again in 6 months or so to discuss outcomes.