The City of Bend continues to focus on diversifying its economic foundation through investment in infrastructure and new urbanism. This includes seeking input from the business community to help improve critical processes during start-up or expansion phases. One example of this is the support offered to business owners through Bend’s Business Advocate, Ben Hemson. A city employee, Ben works with the business community to help move critical processes forward, such as the city’s application and permit-review process as well as other issues businesses face during start-up or expansion mode.
Compass Commercial recently asked Ben to tell us more about his role as the City of Bend’s new Business Advocate and he answers some of our questions below.
Helpful Tip: If you’re a business in start-up mode or planning an expansion in Bend, Ben’s number is one you’ll want in your speed dial.
Compass Commercial: How does your role with the city as the Bend Business Advocate differentiate from EDCO’s role in economic development?
Ben Hemson: EDCO works to help traded sector companies start here in Central Oregon, move here, or grow here. That can mean recruiting, fostering the development of industry clusters, or plugging business owners into incentives.
While my role involves plenty of interaction with EDCO and their Bend Manager, Tom Rowley, my focus is on how businesses are engaging with the City of Bend. This can include helping businesses work through their permitting process, finding the correct contact or info at the city, or making the right hand-off to one of the other great business support organizations we have in town.
CC: What types of business issues do you help mitigate?
BH: It has been a varied list of issues during my first six months — everything from sign codes to building permitting, to special events and sewer rates. There are two components to the issues I work on: The first is helping businesses navigate existing regulation and processes. That can mean finding clarification on city code, checking in on the status of a permit application, or making sure a business is put in touch with the right person to answer your question.
The second involves engaging the business community in policy discussions and other City regulatory conversations that may affect them. Business registration holders with a valid email address receive at least one update a month from me on what’s going on at City Hall that may be of interest on a broad scale. When an issue comes up that might impact a small segment of the business community, whether it’s a specific policy or a road closure, my work involves reaching out to the affected group to help moderate the situation.
CC: At what stage of business are the people who contact you and what are they typically inquiring about?
BH: All across the spectrum, from startups to large local or regional companies.
Bend has a strong community of entrepreneurs. I get a lot of calls from people that are starting a business for the first time and aren’t sure what requirements they need to meet. Those requirements typically aren’t housed solely at the city, there are often contacts at the state or county level with the information they need, but I’m a good starting point.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I also hear from people looking to move to Bend with an existing business or plans for starting a new one. This is a great place to live and work!
CC: Tax breaks in enterprise zones are geared toward larger traded sector operations. Are there any incentives for smaller businesses to open shop in Bend?
BH: Oregon isn’t awash in economic development incentives and many that are available are seeking to leverage the limited dollars into as many new jobs as possible. For a small business that isn’t planning any large expansions, there are ways to think outside the box, the Energy Trust of Oregon provides incentives for energy efficiency that can make the payback short or nonexistent.
Once a smaller business is ready to make an investment in expansion or undergo a round of hiring they should get in touch with our office. Don’t miss out on an incentive that could have been available, many can’t be filed retroactively. EDCO maintains a great list here.
CC: What due diligence is important for businesses to conduct before deciding on a location for their business?
BH: Be sure you have a good idea of the zoning and system development charge implications for your location. If you’ve picked a location zoned industrial that will generate significant business traffic you could be in for a surprise when a hefty bill for transportation system development charges arrives.
In that same vein, once you do have a location selected and are planning out your tenant improvements develop a realistic timeline that takes into account the planning and permitting schedule. The City of Bend’s Community Development Department is dealing with an unprecedented workload right now as the economy grows, but they are tracking average turnaround times to help with planning.
CC: Any other things you’d like business owners to know?
BH: I’m here to be a resource, but also to develop communications and information that the business community finds useful. If you have questions or feedback please get in touch.
Ben Hemson, Business Advocate, City of Bend – firstname.lastname@example.org (541) 388-5529 @BendBizAdvocate