City fund to help businesses start, expand

The city of Lancaster will create an economic development incentive fund to help promote and recruit local commercial businesses within its borders.
City council unanimously voted Tuesday night to use the $25,000 it had originally budgeted for its 2015-16 Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. membership/participation dues as a start.
City officials severed ties with the in-limbo LCEDC in November 2015, choosing instead to support the county’s new economic development department.
Beginning next year, the city will set aside $25,000 in a separate fund to use as a business-type incubator, which helps create and grow young businesses by providing them with necessary support and financial and technical services. The city might increase that fund by adding proceeds from the sale of surplus assets, said City Administrator Flip Hutfles.
“It doesn’t have to be placed in that fund, but it could,” Hutfles said.
Since the economic development incentive fund would not be in place until fiscal 2016-17, it will start with $50,000, which includes the budget carryover from this fiscal year’s unused LCEDC dues. The fiscal budget runs from July 1 to June 30.
The criteria to get the funding has not been determined, but city councilwoman Jackie Harris said the funds should also be available for established downtown commercial businesses, as well as those considering a move within the city’s corporate boundaries. She said business incubators are catalysts for growing and developing small businesses.
“It’s something we need to take a hard look at,” Harris said. “We know small businesses are the key.”
Mayor John Howard agreed, saying the matter was recently discussed at a meeting hosted by the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce that included utility providers, education stakeholders and local officials.
While these are not large industrial employers, Howard said, commercial and retail businesses can create a significant number of jobs. He said it’s time for the city to launch a more active role in a much-neglected element of the local economy.
“The former rendition of economic development avoided commercial development like a plague,” he said.
Howard said when compared to other similar-sized towns in the state, the city of Lancaster has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last decade to create its own identity.
“We’re right on track,” he said. “We just need to find a way to tie it all together. Anyone who is willing to invest inside the corporate limits of the city of Lancaster, we ought to do what we can do. Anything we can do to ease the burden on folks. I think we’ll have far more successes than failures. We’re simply reinvesting in ourselves.”
Harris said Hartsville, Blythewood and Gaffney are seeing successes in drawing small businesses to their downtown districts.
“We have to be open-minded as a government and take the lead on it,” she said. “We have to plant your seed and cultivate it. It’s just like planting your garden this time of year. You gotta start plowing.”

By Gregory A. Summers, Staff Reporter with The Lancaster News