Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

We could learn a lot from the business friendly folks of Boise

Success in growing, nurturing, attracting and keeping investment is the key to growth in any economy and will bring and keep much needed jobs to the region and keep heads above water in tough times.

In the North West, where plans are emerging for one of the biggest and best regeneration efforts to hit Ireland, lessons learnt elsewhere will be critical to success. One of the lessons it will be crucial to learn is how to make a city and region business friendly. The world over, entrepreneurs and investors tell us they are attracted to what they call business friendly places.

On a recent visit to Boston with the Irish Institute at Boston College, participants from a wide range of economic development disciplines on the island of Ireland took a sidebar visit to Boise in Idaho. Included were representatives from councils in Coleraine and Dublin, from government departments North and South, private sector representatives and support agencies and the odd entrepreneur. Derry’s Chamber of Commerce was in the middle of the mix.

“Why Boise” you might ask, and “Why Boise” we did ask but with no clear answer from the organisers. However when we reached the Idaho capital, we saw for ourselves “Why Boise” and listened with envy to what it really means to be business friendly.

Boise is self proclaimed as the most remote metropolitan area in the US and in that way has much in common with the North West corner of Ireland. It has also developed a strong sense of independence and an “if you want it done, do it yourself” mentality.

Also, similar to Derry and to Northern Ireland, there are numerous government departments and bodies working in the field of economic development in Boise but the difference is they have very clearly defined roles. Everyone knows who is responsible for attracting tourism, for supporting businesses developing an export market, for marketing the city and region, for attracting FDI and for supporting entrepreneurs.

The support process has been streamlined to a fine art. Simplified permit process (planning), stable taxes, competitive fiscal regime with tax credits for jobs created and sustained, tax credits for training and upskilling etc, all make up the package of friendliness to attract business.

The mayor’s office talked about how it put a team together to work with the investor to sort out all the bureaucratic problems. Everything from utilities, planning, building permits, workforce recruitment and tax credits all sorted from the one place. Simply put, they make friends with the business and do what friends do — help.

In Northern Ireland the cry we hear from the private sector is that we are not business friendly — business costs are high, the fiscal regime is uncompetitive but the worst issue that the private sector faces is the rampant bureaucracy. Across the board, businesses have to deal with multiple departments on what they see as a single issue and no matter how much feedback they give that this is not working — nothing seems to change. The current Reform of the Planning System, Your Chance to Influence Change gives NI plc an opportunity to once and for all make at least one of the systems a bit more business friendly.

Janice Tracey, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce

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