‘Consider it done’

City of Mount Pearl unleashes plans to attract, nurture businesses

By Mark Squibb I Vol 7 No.9 (May 9, 2019)

Mount Pearl is open for business.

And to prove it, council and city staff unveiled several initiatives last week to aid local business operators during an event at City Hall held in conjunction with Newfoundland and Labrador Innovation Week.

The announcements included a new Business Innovation Advisory Board, a scaled taxation program, and reannouncements for the province-wide hackathon, as well as the opening of an office space, or incubator of sorts, for start-ups and small businesses.

After a panel discussion led by several business leaders, including Paul Preston, Chief Executive Officer at the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries, who is a former Mount Pearl High School student, who proudly wore his Mount Pearl Blades jacket over his suit jacket, Mayor Dave Aker took to the floor to announce the initiatives.

Some 85 entrepreneurs, business owners, and stakeholders had gathered in the council chambers to hear the remarks.

First on the docket was the new innovation advisory board.

“We have big plans here in the City of Mount Pearl, but members of council and staff, we’re not business leaders,” said Aker. “We’re not innovators. We can be, but we need guidance… Ultimately, council has the authority to do everything in the city from a legal perspective, but we don’t have the expertise around the table that speaks to entrepreneurship, or business. By having a business advisory board, we’re bringing business leaders together to advise our economic development team and to advise council going forward.”

The eight-member team includes Maurice Tuff, Ruth Bell-Steinhauer, James Loder, Steve Kavanagh, Erin O'Brien, Paul Preston, Jesse DeVilla, and David Chesney.

Next, Aker reiterated an initiative initially announced in February; the City’s plan to host a Hackathon in November.

The initiative was originally announced during a Mount Pearl Chamber of Commerce luncheon in February when the City unveiled it’s 2019-2023 strategic plan, ‘On the Horizon.’

The event, called Hacking Communities, will be held at the Reid Centre.

Aker then announced a new scaled taxation program for new businesses.

“We believe business should be anything but taxing,” quipped the mayor.

Businesses, particularly those in craft, technology, and retail sectors, can now apply for a 4-year scaled tax break.

If awarded the scaled tax break, the City will cover 80 percent of the companies’ business tax in its first year, 60 percent the second year, 40 percent the third year, and 20 percent in the fourth— and final— year.

The City will award $25,000 annually in business tax breaks, with a limit of $5,000 per business per year.

Though the initiative is aimed at those in the craft, technology, and retail sectors, other new businesses may be approved at council’s discretion.

“There’s other sectors too that may want to avail of this program,” said the mayor. “Council has the discretion and we will listen to every application. If it’s outside those sectors, we still want to hear from you.”

To be eligible, a business must be within three years of incorporation, have no outstanding debts to the City, submit a business application or occupancy permit to the City, be a registered business with Service NL (or at least in the application process) and with the Government of Canada.

Businesses must not have locations outside the City or be part of a franchise.

The tax break is based on the assessed business tax value of the proposed company.

“We recognize it’s very difficult to start a small business. We recognize the cash flow in the first few years is probably the worst in terms of getting up and operating,” noted Aker.

In an interview later with The Pearl, Aker said the scaled tax break was accommodated in the 2019 budget approved back in December. He also said the $25,000 the City allocated isn’t necessarily a cap.

“We’ll go over and above that if we get more new businesses setting up in Mount Pearl,” he said. “Council has the discretion to go above and beyond the $25,000, but at that point and time they would have to find a source of funds to draw upon to forgive more taxes.”

The City also launched the Consider it Done campaign during the event.

CAO Steve Kent took to the floor to explain the pillars of the program, which include catchy slogans like ‘Less red tape, more green lights’, ‘Always looking forward, and not back,’ and ‘Opportunities, not obstacles.’

“Mount Pearl, as you’ve been hearing today, is indeed open for business,” he said. “The campaign that we’re launching today definitely demonstrates that.”

Part of the campaign includes finding a temporary home for an A1Next innovation park.

“A1Next will have a new home as early as this summer, at the latest, September,” said Kent.

That A1Next innovation park was also previously announced in the February launch of the ‘On the Horizon’ strategic plan.

‘On the Horizon’ sates that the innovation park will serve to “attract new residential and commercial growth, while engaging and challenging our residents, business and other stakeholders to find creative solutions to the City’s challenges.”

According to the strategic plan timeline, a short-term action plan, developed in the Fall of 2018, was expected to launch, in a temporary location, in the winter of 2019, with a final development plan being finalized this summer and implemented over 2020-2023.

The City issued an RFP for office space for the temporary innovation hub on April 18. That closed on May 2.

“In September— or sooner— the City of Mount Pearl will open it’s doors to this collaborative working space for entrepreneurs, early-stage start-ups and freelancers, who want to be immersed in a dynamic environment,” Kent said.

The office space will have over 30 seats available.

Council currently has its sites set on the old Stapleton Road swimming pool building for the permanent site of the innovation park.

The city was recently awarded $20,400 in funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to support the completion of a feasibility study on the proposed location of the innovation park, a study which has not yet begun, but is slated to be completed in 2019.

“It’s all designed to drive innovation in our business community,” Kent said.

After a second round of complimentary beer, cod nuggets, beef sliders, deli meats and cheeses, to allow for networking, the event wrapped up.

“We’re telling our business community that we value them,” Aker told The Pearl. “If you don’t reach out to the business community and work with them to get things done, it’s not going to happen on its own.”

Aker noted the initiatives serve both to position the city to capture growth in a sluggish economy and position it for a new way of growth that attracts entrepreneurs, innovators, and young families.

“I think we’ve got to work a little bit harder to raise the city’s profile,” he said. “Its very positive for the city, and for the city’s future, if we become a destination for businesses to set up, no matter what type.”

Aker said the City is committed to doing what it can to help businesses get their start.

“We want to make sure that we leave no stone unturned to try to help them. That doesn’t always mean that we’re going to find success in a particular proposal. But we’ll do everything that we can to ensure that we point out any difemerines or anything additional that needs to get done,” he said. “If they come to us, they’ll get an answer. They’ll get a practical, frank discussion. We’re interested in working with them on their business solutions, and their business priorities.”

The business operators on hand at the event testified to the City’s willingness to help businesses along.

“We’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with two progressive municipalities, the Town of Bonavista, where we started our business, an incredibly progressive town, nothing but support, it was always ‘What do you need?’ versus ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,’” said Alyson Howse, co-owner of the Saucy Mouth food truck, which operates inside the Landwash Brewery in Mount Pearl. “And when we decided to come into Mount Pearl and work with Landwash, it was the same experience with Mount Pearl. I don’t think we would have been able to do this project in another municipality. We have, as a food truck, worked in various municipalities, and we’ve had varying levels of collaboration and partnership and support.”

Posted on May 15, 2019 .