January 18, 2012 By Lauren Katims Nadeau
West Valley City, Utah, Mayor Mike Winder knows that creating jobs is necessary for an economy to thrive. That’s why he has made it a priority for his city — the second most populous in the state — to become the most business-friendly by the year’s end.
Digitizing the application process, once time-consuming and paper-heavy for new and existing developers and business owners, is key to making the city a more appealing place for developers to relocate.
As its name suggests, West Valley City is adjoined to the west of the Salt Lake City metro area. West Valley City was incorporated in 1980 and is now home to 130,000 people.
“We attract a lot of blue-collar employers,” said Brent Garlick, the city’s director of economic development. Jobs in transportation, trucking and the warehouse industry are a big part of the city, and Garlick thinks the new digital application program will bring in a new cluster of higher-paying jobs.
“We’re trying to get that fast-track mentality permeating through everything we do; getting projects in and out,” Garlick said.
The community has nearly 5,000 businesses, ranging from large companies like Discover and Verizon, to smaller local businesses. Establishing high-tech companies, precision manufacturing and financial institutions would bring a different dynamic to the city.
“Time is money and if it’s a hassle to deal with some communities to the tune of months versus weeks, it’s a big deal,” said Garlick. “With these kinds of initiatives, you give your city the reputation of being not only good, but you’re really good.”
City Planning Director Steve Pastorik, who is overseeing the new system, plans on launching the SIRE Technologies software before the year’s end. Companies will fill out development plans on an electronic form and submit them through the software vendor’s online portal. Through the process, companies will be able to check the status of their plans, make changes and compare plans without stepping foot in a government office.
City employees will review the forms, make notes and return them completely online.
The process will speed up processing times significantly, in some cases up to 80 percent for business developers. “Our biggest expense when it comes to development review is staff — the time it takes to review plans,” Pastorik said. “I see it making it more convenient for those who are applying.”
Pastorik couldn’t say yet how much money the software would save the city, but he did mention the environmental benefits and storage space the paperless system will open up.
Convenience, a friendly business community and a central location seem to be a winning ticket for West Valley City, which already has a positive business reputation throughout the state.
“The city is changing, becoming more vibrant,” Pastorik said. The goal now is to make “it a place you can come and do business, not get stuck in red tape.”
With an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, West Valley City comes in just over the state unemployment average of 6.4 percent. State officials hope the new business initiatives will help the city build on development successes that in 2011 attracted 1,215 new jobs, $590,000 in new sales tax dollars and more than $62 million in new capital investment.
To support the city’s small businesses, reports on demographic information, business trends and consumer spending will be put online.
Also, using GIS, the city will have detailed information on its website about the entire inventory of available land. Looking at a map, prospective businesses can click on a location and get details about each type of property, including number of households, income and home values.
“It’s about using technology to provide more information to develop the city,” Pastorik said.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.