Contractors in Greenville rated their city government nearly 9 percent higher than other professionals in the area, according to survey results. The city also earned a B+ for its overall friendliness to small businesses.
The survey, which collected data from nearly 18,000 small business owners from around the U.S., compiled answers regarding a community’s overall business friendliness, regulatory environment, new-hire prospects, and more.
Following Greenville were New Haven, Connecticut; Albany, New York; Tampa, Florida; Port St. Lucie, Florida; Asheville, North Carolina; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Cincinnati; Dallas; and New Orleans.
“Small business owners have consistently told us that they welcome support from their government but are frequently frustrated by unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles,” said Jon Lieber, chief economist, Thumbtack.com, in a news release. “Given that there is a crisis of entrepreneurship in the U.S., as seen in the broad collapse of self-employment across industries and states, creating the right environment for business startups is more important than ever.”
REPLACE OR REPAIR
Following the housing bust of the Great Recession, many homeowners chose to invest in improvements in current houses instead of trading up to newer homes. Additionally, government stimulus programs are encouraging energy efficiency, and rental property owners are reinvesting in properties. These trends have all contributed to a strengthening remodel market, as documented in a recent report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
Americans paid professionals nearly $130 billion to work on 30 million home improvement projects in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And, some of those home improvement projects included replacing aging HVAC equipment. According to the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), shipments of central air conditioners and air-source heat pumps increased from 1.97 million units in 2013 to 2.35 million in 2014. Gas and oil warm-air furnace shipments also increased from 2.63 million units in 2013 to 2.77 million in 2014.
Just as the remodel market is doing better in some areas than others, some cities are friendlier to contractors than others.
Bob Cochell, owner of Gulf Coast Air Systems Inc. in Tampa, Florida, said his city — which ranked fourth in the Thumbtck survey — is a destination for people to come and get into the air conditioning business, with “hundreds, if not thousands, in the state now.”
There’s also a high failure rate for startup air conditioning companies, Cochell noted.
“There are technicians who start up their own companies, but they’re not businessmen,” he said. “I’ve had several of my employees leave to start their own businesses, but it was not as easy as they thought it was. They thought they would do something and collect money. But, once you own a business, you’re skills of fixing air conditioners aren’t as important as running the business.”
Additionally, the high cost of permits makes operating as an HVAC contractor somewhat difficult, Cochell said. “We’re in the hurricane zone, so everything needs to be tied down. They lowered the permit fee to $60 in Hillsborough County, but it’s $128 in the city of Tampa. As soon as they lowered it, they had a lot more permits and a lot more compliance. In Tampa, where the permit is expensive, they get fewer permits. It’s one of those situations where if the people get caught, they get caught, and they’ll pay the fee. So, what happens is people do a lot of work without permits, and, you know what, it shows. Things are not as they’re supposed to be.
“So, yes, Tampa is friendly — sometimes too friendly,” he continued. “When people get into the business and find out all of the rules and regulations, they start going around the rules, and then the homeowners suffer. Then, the homeowners want us to come out and fix the problem, and sometimes it’s hard to fix.”
Small businesses in Texas and Utah have rated their states in the top five every year the Small Business Friendliness Survey has run, according to Thumbtack. Dallas ranked as the ninth friendliest city in the country for small businesses overall, and home improvement contractors rated the city 1.7 percent better than its counterparts in other industries.
Steve Saunders, CEO of Tempo Mechanical in Irving, Texas, said Dallas, along with the entire North Texas region, is notoriously business-friendly.
“That doesn’t mean everything is easy and that there are no regulations, but it does mean that Dallas and most of the surrounding cities are friendly to business,” Saunders said. “Most try to work with you on permits and regulations. We find that city officials are dedicated civil servants with a focus on serving the community and creating the best environment for all citizens.”
Saunders served on the city’s Energy and Green Advisory Board for 11 years, which is made up of a mixture of code officials and building professionals who work together on building codes and issue regional modifications so the regional municipalities can have a common enforcement policy. “There is very little corruption in our city offices, and I’ve never experienced any wrongdoing. In fact, I’ve seen exactly the opposite. I never fail to be impressed and amazed by the competence and breadth of knowledge of our chief building officials.”
Additionally, when Tempo Mechanical purchased its building in Irving and had plat issues and needed code interpretations to employee certain building techniques, Saunders said he found willing ears from local government officials, who offered some very creative solutions.
“There is no doubt that we are in an era of enhanced regulation and increased enforcement,” he said. “But, for those who are knowledgeable of the rules, willing to attempt to do right, have real issues they can explain, and are willing to suggest solutions, they’ll mostly find officials willing to listen and attempt to support and seek mutual and effective solutions.”
For more information on the Small Business Friendliness Survey, visit http://bit.ly/ThumbtackSBFS.
Publication date: 12/7/2015