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Milton looking to lure new businesses

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
March 1, 2012
— Milton city officials are hoping a couple of new economic development plans will help lure new businesses to the city and give existing businesses more of a say in city policy.

City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said the city plans this year to partner with two local lenders to start a small business loan program that will help new businesses relocate to Milton.


Meanwhile, the city this month is launching a small business task force that Schuetz said will bring together business leaders and city officials to discuss business development strategies and city regulatory policy that impacts businesses.


Schuetz said one of the first jobs for the task force will be to discuss the city's sign code, which is under review by city staff and could face an overhaul later this year, city sources say.


Loan program

The city plans this year to start a loan program that's intended to help the city recruit new small businesses.


The program would set up a $25,000 fund split between the city and the two banks. It would provide loans in the $5,000 range, Schuetz said.


The program could help develop new businesses in vacant storefronts in the city's eastside downtown and in Merchant's Row on the west side, Schuetz said.


The city council approved the program last year. It likely will start this year pending an agreement between the city and the Bank of Milton and First Community Bank, the two local lenders that would help fund it, Schuetz said.


The loans would have to be approved by the city's community development authority and the city council, Schuetz said.


It's a small-scale incentive, but in the face of a fragile economic recovery and tight lending standards, the loan program could be a difference maker, Schuetz said.


"The dollar amount isn't astronomical, but we're hoping it's one more tool that we can use to recruit somebody looking for a little bit of help to get their business started," Schuetz said.


Task force

The city has more than 200 businesses—many with fewer than 25 employees, Schuetz said.


He said the city and the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism have developed a joint project—a small business task force—as a way to bring those businesses together to discuss city policy and ways to improve marketing and development of small businesses.


The task force, which will include business owners, city staff and chamber of commerce officials, would discuss city regulatory policies that impact small businesses, Schuetz said.


The group will meet once every three months, and its first meeting is slated for March 28 at Ott Schweitzer Distributing.


Sign code

This month and at a meeting later this year the new small business task force will discuss possible changes to the city's sign code, Schuetz said.


The code hasn't been significantly updated in several years, and it's being put under formal review by the city, probably later this year.


The city's heard concerns from businesses that the code is too restrictive and unevenly applied, Schuetz said. For instance, a business owner recently asked city staff why gas stations and taverns don't have the same standards for flashing or blinking signs.


He suggested that the task force could discuss ways to relax the code without changing its overall intent.


"Could some aspects of the sign code maybe be guidelines rather than stringent regulations? I think there's opportunities there where we might be able to do a little better than what we're doing," Schuetz said.


If the task force wants changes to the code, its suggestions would go before the plan commission and the city council. That likely would happen late this year, Schuetz said.



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