West Columbia is friendly to business, a one-stop shop
Businesses are the backbone of the community. They are a sign of prosperity and health. And the rate of new business coming to the City of West Columbia is ever-increasing.
If there is a key to growth, it’s a prompt response, efficiency and a general respect for the prospective entrepreneur.
“West Columbia is a one-stop shop for business by design,” said Mayor Bobby Horton. “We work at simplifying the process for businesses. When you come to West Columbia City Hall we have the offices for business licenses, zoning, and inspections, adjacent to one another,” he said. “In addition to that, the utilities department is close as well. They are all there together. One office is within 50-feet of the other.”
Horton also said the city makes an effort to find the right employees to put in positions to be helpful. “We have good, capable people, who know how to help, in those jobs,” Horton said.
He said the city has many reasons to be supportive of the business community. And he said the city monitors the process.
“Small businesses are where most of the jobs are created,” Horton said. “And we want to
know if the process is not smooth, so we can address that.”
Ellen Ravenell is on the front line in the process of opening a business in West Columbia. Any prospective business owner applies to her office first for a license. She gets the ball rolling. Ravenell has been in charge of the West Columbia business license office for 17 years. She said, based on the feedback she receives, there is a high degree of satisfaction for those wanting to do business in West Columbia.
“It can’t be that easy,” Ravenell said she has been told by applicants.
Ravenell also said compared to other business license offices, response time in West Columbia is shorter. And she explained the process. After Ravenell receives a request for a
license, Building Inspector Stuart Jones is contacted.
“I check the property (on-site) to make sure it complies with the current codes of the city,” Jones said. “In some cases there could be a change of occupancy and the code has to be upgraded.”
Jones also inspects a site to make sure it is structurally sound. He is the only certified commercial building inspector in West Columbia, so he stays busy.
“I can respond quickly because I’m the point of contact,” Jones said. “The request from the applicant comes straight to me. I try to work with folks to make sure it’s as painless as possible. And I try to accommodate them as soon as I can.”
Jones said the ease-of-process helps the West Columbia business community grow.
Zoning is also an early step in the process. And Wayne Shuler, West Columbia’s Director of Planning and Zoning, is another cog in the wheel of efficiency.
When an application for a business license is made, a zoning compliance form is attached, said Shuler.
If the requested use matches the zoning designation, Shuler quickly approves the application. If zoning changes have to be made the application is expedited.
“In most cases there is not an issue, said Shuler. And when the uses don’t match, the application is moved to the zoning board of appeals as soon as possible.
“We do our best to be problem solvers,” said Shuler.
Ravenell said the fire marshal also inspects a potential business property.
West Columbia’s Fire Marshal is Daniel Roberts and the Deputy Fire Marshal is Rodney Howell. Horton said they are extremely efficient in providing fire-safety inspections for inquiring business interests in the city.
Ravenell said it gives her a sense of satisfaction to work for such an effective department. She said the opening of a business may be a part of a dream. She described a husband and wife team that recently applied for a business liscense.
“A lot of times they are nervous. They want to get as much information as possible. The husband emailed a lot as they planned,” said Ravenell. And he was surprised at the level of cooperation he received through the city.
Ravenell also said she is pleased to see the business community in West Columbia, thriving. “West Columbia is definitely growing,” she said.
Horton said the City of West Columbia also encourages business activity for those thinking about it.
“We have n individual to assist you if you are looking to locate a business in the city,” Horton said. B.J Unthank is West Columbia’s economic development director.
Horton also said there is no secret to West Columbia’s success in attracting new business.
“We want people to come to West Columbia,” he said. “And when we do all we can to welcome them here, and make sure they have what they need to succeed, it sends the message that West Columbia is open for business.”