As we continue through our series of focus groups, allowing us to dig deeper into the common issues facing specific business sectors in Burlington, Monday afternoon’s session focused on big business/manufacturers in our city.
Joining me again was my Red Tape Red Carpet Task Force co-chair, Councillor Kelvin Galbraith, along with Interim City Manager Tim Commisso and team members from the Burlington Economic Development Corporation. Facilitation was done by trained City of Burlington staff, who did a wonderful job as always.
Attendees included CEOs, Founders, General Managers and VPs from businesses around Burlington varying in industry and location. Altogether we had approximately 20 leaders in the room ready to share insights with us over the 90-minute session. In keeping with the format of prior sessions, attendees were asked to share the challenges they faced to starting and/or growing/expanding their business, anything they felt was already working well, and ideas they had for what will make things better.
There was a lot of experience, seniority, and brainpower in the room, and I want to express my appreciation that these busy leaders took the time to join us and contribute to the conversation.
What we heard from this audience was the following challenges, many of which were commonly heard at other groups, with a few new insights and examples (common themes are highlighted in bold):
- The Permit process – flaws and delays
- Dealing with the MTO – lack of accountability to timelines, unwilling to conduct site visits
- City is too slow to react
- City staff have a lack of knowledge behind the scenes/of private sector and are unresponsive
- Staff are inconsistent in their application of policy
- Fees are inconsistent
- Turnover of City staff
- Sense of confrontation with City staff – rational conversation is difficult
- Lack of common sense and practicality in processes
- Commercial/employment zoning needs
- Regional transit connectivity and transportation/traffic overall
- Lack of land availability / larger space for manufacturing
- Sign bylaws are too restrictive
- Access to high tech talent / post-secondary / new fields & areas of study
- Site visits are needed to understand practical issues
- Tough finding the right department at the City
- Incremental feedback on multiple submissions
- Need clear timelines / business timelines
- Ineffective communications
- Lack of incentives if not manufacturing
- Skilled and non-skilled labour/talent
To ensure we don’t try to fix what’s not broken, today’s audience also told us they felt the following processes and issues were already working from their point of view (common comments are highlighted in bold):
- New council = progressive thinking
- The Red Tape Red Carpet Task Force – appreciate the City is listening and willing to change
- BEDC support, networking events and TechPlace
- Employee retention and recruitment
- Recent immigrants in the area provide a great talent pool
- Success in exporting / export funding was helpful (got cut thought)
- Location: close to highways, the border, and Go train
- Innovation through partnerships
- Growth of manufacturing locally
- Rotational Engineer program uses fresh grads to fill roles
- Product development support funding (SRED, IRAP)
- Access to a huge market next door (Toronto)
- Engineering staff at the City of Burlington are constant, fair, good to deal with, consistent
Finally, the wealth of knowledge and experience in the room put forward the following ideas about what can change and improve:
- Work hard to create a customer service culture at City Hall. Start at the top and trickle down. Help everyone feel good at the end of the day for what they did and how they did it.
- Change how work is assigned: Rather than having work assigned to whoever is next available, have the same person allocated to all permits for the same building so that the familiarity is there to increase speed and customer service rather than have so many different people involved each time and forcing them to start at square one and get up to speed.
- Advocate and influence with other government and regulatory agencies.
- Site plan vs. survey education – field trips and training
- Include copyright protection (not here now)
- Ombudsman backed by Council
- Better performance management of City staff with KPIs attached / measurements
- Consider CRM/Software solutions for better digitization/automation of processes as well as tracking
- Electronic file transfers of documents submitted
- Status on reports on file in less than 3-4 weeks / Customer Status reports conducted by Staff
- Lunch & Learns for Developers
- Exception approvals at the counter
- Staff to ask the question: how can we make this work?
- New City staff should have to have spent time in the industry first (externally)
- Leverage development around Go stations
- List of issues that are black/white – clear & automate (ex: building code)
- Personalization of website – “what are you here for today”
- Self-serve options
- Overall management / admin/ project management for applications
- Business concierge support
- More mixed-use service available without getting in car
- Better marketing and promotion of Burlington to businesses
- Need tax credit advocacy with Minister of Finance
- Review incentive programs to be more accessible
- Incentives to hire new grads
- Need a tech school in Halton (post-secondary)
- Ontario apprenticeship: training and tax credit (needs new process released)
- Increase limits on “Now Hiring” portable signs
- More affordable housing (for employees)
- Foreign worker depository
- All day Go train (24 hours)
- Transparency on timelines / status updates
- Be willing to refund processing fees if deadlines aren’t met by City
Overall the session on Monday provided a forum for this group of leaders to directly communicate with myself, other City leaders, and each other, helping ensure our businesses feel heard, valued and supported as critical parts of Burlington’s economic health and well-being.
We are listening at City Hall, and we are thankful for all the insights and ideas that are helping us identify what we can do – or do better – do help our businesses grow and thrive.
Our next focus group includes leaders and stakeholders from the real estate and development industries (May 1st) and on May 15th we will meet with some of our rural business owners to better understand their unique needs and challenges.
Later this month, we will update you on the Task Force itself, who will be meeting on several occasions to sift through all the insights we have collected and come up with actionable solutions to bring before City Council.
Sign up for the RTRC Task Force email newsletter version by clicking the link.
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