Payson remains unfriendly to businesses, according to a survey of 27 business owners who cited persistent problems with zoning, signs, bureaucracy, housing for workers, finding educated workers and providing employee healthcare.
"It is perceived that town government is detrimental to business presently; often giving out wrong information and planning and zoning are being handled poorly. The high cost of local housing was a concern and there was an expressed need for a Blue Ridge water supply," concluded the report prepared by the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation (PREDC), formed to lure new businesses to the area.
The survey of Payson business owners conducted in November and December of last year as the council election heated up, was released this week.
The survey documented generally positive attitudes toward the community and future business prospects. The business community gave high marks to police, fire, lifestyle, transportation, schools, economic development, streets, the visitor's bureau and property taxes. However, the chamber of commerce, community college, housing, building permits, sign regulations and community planning all got low marks.
Moreover, out of the 44 percent who said they'd had a change in attitude about doing business in Payson during the last two years, 78 percent said the change had been for the worse.
Two years ago, Bob Edwards won the mayor's seat on a campaign calling for growth restrictions to preserve the town's water supply. In March, current Mayor Kenny Evans unseated him on a platform that called for a revision of the growth restrictions and a more business-friendly attitude at Town Hall.
Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce Manager John Stanton said that the report mirrors the complaints he often receives from business owners in town.
"We get that a lot from members," said Stanton.
He said businesses often find themselves dealing with conflicting or shifting requirements from one agency to another and sometimes from the same agency.
"There's a lack of coordination," between the various agencies that businesses must deal with.
PREDC Executive Director Ken Volz said that a similar study done in 2006 found many of the same comments about town hall making life hard for businesses. So he said the perception has been nurtured for the past 7 or 8 years, not just during the term of the last administration.
"What the town needs to do from a business standpoint is to eliminate or minimize this perception the town is anti-business. The way you do that is partly to make sure that the existing businesses that are here understand that we all value them and we will do whatever what ever we can to help them remain competitive."
He said that the previous administration had an "antigrowth mentality," which stoked the existing impression that the town created difficulties for businesses.
Key findings that emerged from the survey included:
- About 71 percent have a trade area that's more than 100 miles wide and about 48 percent said their customers come in about once a week.
- About 88 percent said sales were stable or increasing, with 30 percent reporting charging rising prices for their products.
- Tourists account for about 23 percent of sales.
- About 85 percent of workers live in or near Payson.
- Half of the businesses provide no health insurance and half of those who do don't help the employees pay the premium.
- Key community problems cited include an unskilled work force (10 percent), poor government leadership (7 percent), living costs (7 percent) and drug issues (7 percent).
- About 20 percent of the regular clients account for 36-75 percent of revenues.
- Most business owners were satisfied with utility services, but upset by the cost.
The report summarized the findings by concluding, "The local population is perceived to be too small to support business. Payson is basically a blue-collar town with a small segment of affluent individuals who reside here part time. Businesses tend to view the population as not having a local buying allegiance with the exception of Wal-Mart, which is thought to have changed business locally and caused some small companies to go out of business.