GEORGETOWN — Being business-friendly is something all candidates for the Georgetown City Council race agree is important.
Incumbents Paige Sawyer and Brendon S. Barber Sr.; incumbent mayoral candidate Jack Scoville; and council challenger Doris Simmons think Georgetown already is friendly for new and existing businesses, but mayoral hopeful Richard Powers and council candidates Carol Jayroe and Ed Kimbrough think there’s room for improvement to make the city more competitive to new businesses and to encourage economic growth. Incumbent Councilwoman Jeanette Ard said it has improved, but there’s still room to go.
Scoville said a lot has changed in the city since he became mayor four years ago.
“Several years ago we had serious problems in City Hall with this issue,” he said. “Some employees seemed to have a ‘fortress mentality,’ an ‘us against them’ attitude.”
Scoville said those people are no longer employed with the city and the current city council has worked to make City Hall business friendly by cutting commercial electric rates, spending “thousands” on an advertising campaign to promote city business and hiring an economic development director.
Scoville said the city was in an economic boom before the Front Street fire last month.
“The fire is a setback, but we will come back better than ever,” he said.
Powers said he didn’t think the city was business friendly, largely due to the business license fees.
“There are a lot of businesses in the city that feel it’s unfair that they have a business license fee that is progressive so the more you do in sales, the bigger your fee is,” he said. “There in an unfair advantage just because they want to do business in Georgetown.”
Powers, who owns a boat dealership in Pawleys Island and McClellanville, wants to see changes to the business license fees and said if elected as mayor that’s something “we’re going to study pretty hard.”
Ard also thinks there should be changes to the license fees. She said City Council should explore the possiblity of “a flat tax based on the type and size of a business.”
Incumbent Barber thinks Georgetown is business friendly and on the way to improving it further with the economic development director.
“That was a move to make sure that we are friendly towards the businesses and to help recruit new businesses,” he said.
He’s a proponent of tax or other economic incentives to encourage new businesses come to the city.
Kimbrough doesn’t think the city is business-friendly, but does think the economic development director will help.
“Recently I talked to a businessman that has a huge business that happens to be outside the limits, but wants to expand within the city,” Kimbrough said. “He waited on a call back for three months.”
Barber thinks a small faction that drove away big box stores like Lowes is why some think the city is not business-friendly and hopes a marketing campaign that is in the works will help.
“We’re going to let the entire country know Georgetown is business-friendly,” he said. “We want your business and we want to provide all the incentives and infrastructure we need to get businesses to come to Georgetown.”
Incumbent Sawyer said he’ll be happy to walk anyone around city hall to make introductions and show the city is business-friendly.
He also pointed at the strides toward economic development with a director and the marketing campaign as proof the city is working to improve.
Civility on City Council is something all challengers, except Doris Simmons, said needs to be fixed if the town can be seen as business-friendly.
“When you walk in that door, it’s as if you are just not welcomed in the city, whether you’re a business person or someone that’s just relocated,” Powers said.
Similarly, Jayroe said making the city business-friendly needs to start at the top with City Council, but she said the city also needs to have a good relationship with the county.
“We need a City Council and the County Council working together for the common good of the city,” she said.
Simmons, on the other hand, said Georgetown is friendly and welcoming, but said it could be important to have a meeting with property owners to learn concerns and work toward fixes.
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381 or follow her on Twitter @TSN_akelley.