Issaquah Chamber of Commerce unveils city-focused agenda
July 5, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Leaders focus on changes to signage, tourism
Issaquah business leaders plan to focus on City Hall in the months ahead to foster economic development, bolster tourism-promotion efforts and shape regulations to benefit businesses.
Matthew Bott, Issaquah Chamber of Commerce CEO, said the local agenda formed after chamber leaders consulted Issaquah entrepreneurs. The effort marks the inaugural legislative agenda from the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce focused on city issues.
“We really went out and asked our members, ‘What are you seeing? What are your priorities? What would you like to see?’” he said. “We made a specific focus on city government.”
The document outlines targets related to economic vitality, regulations, taxes and fees, signage and transportation — frequent topics for business and municipal leaders.
The agenda, for instance, calls for officials to consider potential impacts from City Council legislation on businesses, recommends creating incentives rather than regulations, and seeks to update permitting and signage requirements.
“We wanted to make sure that it was a document that could basically help us serve as the voice of business and for policymakers, so they can easily and quickly have something in writing that says, ‘Here’s what local businesses wish to see,’” Bott said.
Seeking business-friendly regulations
The chamber called on the city to create a signage task force and deliver recommendations to the council next year. Entrepreneurs often raise concerns about limits on signage, such as placement and size.
“Even small increases in a business’ visibility can have exponential effects to their revenue and to the taxes they generate,” Bott said. “There are many businesses that you would never see if you didn’t know where they were at.”
Councilman Tola Marts said a discussion about signage could benefit businesses and the community at large.
“I think that having a dialogue about signs is a good thing. The law of unintended consequences is rarely more visible than when you talk about signage and what we allow and don’t allow for signage,” he said. “Most reasonable people would agree that you can have more flexibility without turning into Las Vegas.”
The agenda also asks the city to join the chamber to develop a task force dedicated to building permitting and inspection.
“These are very detailed issues that will take time to discuss and work through, but we’re just pleased that there’s the will to take a look at that for the benefit of our economy,” Bott said.
Municipal regulation is another priority. The chamber offered substantial input during the discussion about recent food-packaging and fats-oils-and-grease ordinances. Bott said although council members and staffers seemed receptive to input, the city should offer incentives to businesses rather than imposing rules.
“If we were to go back and look at the cost of certain regulations, the cost to manage them, the cost to implement them, the difficulty business owners have had, a cost-benefit analysis to make sure we don’t have any unintended consequences is pretty important,” he said.
Tourism, another perennial focus for Issaquah boosters, forms a key component in the agenda.
“Everyone does a little bit of community promotion in different ways,” Bott said. “What we want to do is try to bring all of that together under a functional, ongoing community promotion and tourism entity that would be a collaborative project with the city and the chamber.”
The chamber hired Issaquah Highlands resident Nathan Perea, a former council candidate, as membership-tourism sales manager in late May.
“What we’re going to be focusing on, with Nate especially, is having him begin to do very boots-on-the-ground, outbound research to try and bring in new tourism dollars,” Bott said.
Efforts to sell the city to tourists could be as simple as adding “Welcome to Issaquah” signs at major entry points or as detailed as pitching the city to trade groups.
The mission involves “bringing appropriately-sized functions to town that our hotels can accommodate, that our restaurants can accommodate and really show people from outside what Issaquah has and have them come here and shop and spend their money,” Perea said.
Commission could foster change
The chamber also supports creating a municipal Economic Vitality Commission. The council set a goal to create such a commission in 2012.
The proposed commission could handle a marketing plan to attract businesses, consider opportunities to improve signage options for merchants, review municipal permitting and inspection processes, and produce annual report cards on strategies recommended in the 2005 Economic Vitality Plan.
“Issaquah is a great place to live and work. We have award-winning schools and phenomenal recreation opportunities. We have a highly educated work force,” Councilwoman Stacy Goodman said. “The community also has become ethnically and socially diverse, which I believe is healthy for any economy. And our proximity to I-90 means easy access to Seattle and Eastern Washington, and all of the great amenities in the region and state.”
The commission is meant, in part, to change perceptions about the city as a barrier to opening a business.
“But there still is the perception that the city can be an impediment to creating a positive experience for businesses,” Goodman added. “That simply has to change.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.