LONG BEACH - In this still-sluggish economy, it has gotten far more difficult for small businesses like The Red Leprechaun, an Irish-American pub, to secure loans, pay licensing fees and jump through the many hoops of the city's plan check.
Tracy Ames, owner of The Red Leprechaun on Anaheim Street, grew more frustrated with each trip to the city's Development Services Department.
Now, two years after her first visit to the city in November 2010, Ames stood at City Hall on Tuesday with Mayor Bob Foster and other officials to praise the reorganization of the way the city does business.
Foster and Amy Bodek, director of development services, made a commitment to business owners and residents to "get down to the business of doing business.
Under the old program, business owners faced redundancies, long wait times and excessive permit fees - days that "are over," Foster promised.
The mayor announced a new process that will streamline city services - something that has been a goal for some time.
"We're making opening a business here straightforward and sensible," Foster said. "By reducing costs and simplifying the process, Long Beach becomes an even more desirable location for business and job creation."
Foster was joined by Fire Chief Mike DuRee, Health Department Director Ron Arias and a host of other officials who gathered to announce the changes.
Development Services Deputy Manager Angela Reynolds said that reorganization is the key to the city's strategy to "grow and strengthen its business and community by removing red tape and being smarter with its resources to make Long Beach even more business-friendly."
Reynolds said the reorganization was accomplished without a budget increase.
"This reorganization will benefit residents and businesses, and the city of Long Beach as a whole," she said. "Businesses get to open their doors earlier and start selling goods and services."
Ames, whose pub opened July 13, said she noticed the city was making "serious" changes in March 2011 when she was introduced to Reynolds, who from the first phone call "streamlined the approval process."
"It was this office and the many people in it that helped me through the plan check, the permitting and the inspection process - which can be quite complex because it includes water, fire, health, building, planning, business licensing and public works," she said. "As a first-time business owner, it is impossible to know and understand the steps it takes to actually get the doors open."
The challenges facing small business are numerous, Ames said.
In fact, the number of U.S. small-business loans, defined as $1 million or less, declined 5percent last year, according to a study by the Small Business Administration. On top of that, the dollar amount of small-business loans declined by 7 percent.
But most small-business loan applicants don't ask for much, officials say.
More than half, including Ames, sought a microloan, or $100,000 or less. But lenders were more likely to turn down microloan applications than larger sums.
Business owners say one of the most difficult issues in today's economy is finding capital.
Long Beach is trying to make at least a part of the process easier. One of the most immediate changes is that the fire and health plan check, permitting and inspection services have been merged into the development services process.
Reynolds said the consolidation will "eliminate overlapping reviews and separate approvals from multiple departments."
In addition, Bodek said these changes have resulted in a targeted reduction of 15 percent in licensing fees to customers.
Additional benefits for both residential and commercial customers also include new brochures providing step-by-step guides through the permitting process for various types of businesses, including retail and restaurants.
"The reorganization provides more consistency and timeliness for customers," Bodek said. "Problems get resolved quicker, and customers get more standardized responses and are happier with the service."
Foster said the changes are already making a difference, pointing to better customer service ratings over the past two years.
"Customer service ratings at the Development Permit Center have risen from 60 percent positive feedback in 2010 to nearly 90 percent in 2012," he said.
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