Creating A More Business-Friendly Enviroment

By Michael H. Williams

We are navigating through a transitioning business landscape in Brevard County. With changes in sight, there are many people who are focused on the future, looking to fortify our resources and services in anticipation of greater opportunities to come. The Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast recognized needed changes nearly three years ago and established goals in terms of strategic growth, business accessibility and marketing that have produced tangible returns.

One such goal is to make Brevard County one of the friendliest communities for those looking to grow or relocate their company. This means simplifying and more efficiently managing the process companies must go through when growing or moving. If we want to compete, this is the first place to start making improvements. In just a short time period, immense progress has been made in opening the door for those looking to plant business roots on the Space Coast.

It’s a S.N.A.P.

Over a two-year period, the EDC’s Development Council has created and implemented a groundbreaking program called S.N.A.P (Simplified, Nimble, Accelerated Permitting), which recognizes municipalities that have adopted permitting best practices as determined by the Council and other participating municipalities. To date, four municipalities have been awarded the newly created designation – Brevard County, City of Cocoa, City of Palm Bay and City of Rockledge.

What started as a series of conversations with municipalities has since turned into a strategic effort to enhance and streamline the permitting process throughout the county. Efficient, streamlined permitting enhances our ability to attract new business and investment. It also provides a valuable tool to retain existing businesses and encourage expansion.

With input from some of the Space Coast’s top developers, architects and builders, the Council developed a best practices model for both building and site permitting. The S.N.A.P. designation was developed to recognize excellence in simplifying the permitting process. Each municipality that participated in the program made process enhancements, but four made a significant effort to update policies and procedures. Some of the improvements included:

Brevard County

  • Created Planning & Development Department, giving contractors the benefit of the entire development process under one department
  • Enhanced online permitting features to be more user-friendly
  • Created Building Construction Advisory Committee, which meets monthly to consider and make recommendations on development-related matters

City of Cocoa

  • Allows minor site plan amendments and small scale site plans to be approved at the staff level
  • Revised building and site plan processes to be more aligned with other Brevard municipalities
  • Implemented online customer service feedback survey

City of Palm Bay

  • Implemented options for payment of impact fees to assist business and development in managing project costs
  • Instituted minor site plan review process, reducing the requirements for site plan submittal and review
  • Utilizes full-time staff ombudsman to serve as a single point of contact for the applicant

City of Rockledge

  • After an initial review, permits applicants to submit specific areas of change requested under city staff comments, rather than another full site plan
  • Established Development Review Committee to evaluate each application
  • Instituted free pre-construction meetings with clients to evaluate plans, answer questions and develop relationships between the contractor and city staff

It’s Just the Beginning

While this is a huge step in the right direction, the Council’s work is far from over. By the end of the year, we hope to designate 90 percent of participating local municipalities as S.N.A.P. recipients. The public sector also can’t do it alone. The team will continue to work with the private sector to gather input and further improve processes.

In order to grow we must embrace change – personal change, professional change and change on a larger scale. At the end of the day, our goal is to make the Space Coast a business-friendly environment. It is the duty of every business leader to look across the community and report impediments that hinder us from taking advantage of future opportunities. Brevard County is growing even stronger thanks to the time and effort from groups like the Development Council and from municipalities that see the value in providing clients a positive and timely permitting experience.

Michael H. Williams is president of M.H. Williams Construction Group, Inc. and serves as Chairman of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast’s Development Council.