What’s the role of the city of Livonia when it comes to interacting with the business climate?
That was just one of of the questions posed to the seven candidates running for Livonia City Council during a candidate forum held Sept. 30 at Livonia City Hall. Organized by the Livonia Chamber of Commerce, the forum gave residents a chance to hear from all those running for one of four seats on the city council on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Those seven candidates are:
- Carrie Budzinski
- Dan Centers
- Rob Donovic
- Jim Jolly
- Scott Morgan
- Ken Overwater
- Laura Toy
The forum, moderated by chamber president Dan West, focused on a range of topics, including challenges the city faces in the future and environmental issues.
Talking about attracting and keeping business, especially in light of the changes created by the COVID-19 pandemic, was one issue where candidates had varying messages.
Budzinski said in addition to seeing what can be done to help get workers ready for jobs, she said she would lean on groups such as the chamber to help determine how best to move forward.
“Naturally, quote-unquote outside of the pandemic, we already saw a shift into e-commerce and less brick-and-mortar businesses. Now, with the pandemic, that accelerated in a lot of ways,” she said. “It’s listening to the members of the chamber and the representatives of the chamber and what is important.”
Jolly said there’s plenty the city can do to help businesses succeed, which includes the new Livonia Vision 21 master plan, which he said will hopefully give businesses more flexibility.
“But there’s a lot we can do to kind of engage the community around these issues and one of those is really, the city can act as a bridge for providing employees, for utilizing the resources and skills that are here in the community and kind of putting them in touch not only with the businesses that are here now, but the businesses we hope to bring here,” he said. “We will not be creating an unrecognizable Livonia, but it will be a Livonia that is better to meet the challenges of today and those to come.”
Morgan said he would routinely speak to many city business owners when he worked as a police officer in the city. He said having open lines of communication across multiple departments with businesses, as well the new master plan, will benefit local business.
“I would always go out and talk to business owners and keep an open line of communication,” he said. “I know our building department, they work closely with all the businesses. The Livonia (Vision) 21 plan, it opens up … the ordinances a little bit to allow them to have a little bit of leeway with their businesses.”
Overwater said the easiest way to grow the city and make it a healthy business location is to support local establishments.
“I’m a big believer in neighborhood businesses. It’s what I love about my neighborhood; it’s what I’ve loved about other neighborhood I’ve lived in in other places,” he said. “I think we need to continue to support all of these businesses in these neighborhoods because they’re what adds value to the places we live. And those are the kinds of things that attract people to come and live in those neighborhoods, which is something we need to be able to do.”
Centers said Livonia has plenty of opportunities to grow when it comes to training, be it the Livonia Career Technical Center run by Livonia Public Schools, the brand-new manufacturing facility recently built by Schoolcraft College or other training at Madonna University, connecting job-seekers with the appropriate opportunities.
“Over and over, I hear a lot about personnel. They talk a lot about workforce development,” he said. “I think connecting people with the resources is what might be missing a little bit. So I would really love to see our city really do that connection to make sure that people are getting the resources they need to help our businesses thrive.”
Toy said she believes streamlining the process by which businesses that need council approval could be improved. She said she’ll see applications that won’t be seen for a few months by the council, a time period that could drastically affect the bottom line.
“Some businesses need to get going. We want to create a safe environment, safe buildings, but by the same token, I think we can cut some of the red tape,” she said. “We do a wonderful job in city hall, I’m not knocking it. But I’m just saying, maybe we can look at that as the future goes on here.”
Donovic said the best way to develop a business-friendly climate in the city is to eliminate as many hurdles that government can put up as possible. With the challenges many businesses already face, having fewer burdens from local government will allow them to focus their efforts on other issues, such as inventory and staffing.
“When you think about what the city can do to stay out of the way of business, it comes down to fiscal responsibility: keeping property taxes low, minimizing fees and trying to trying to get rid of local regulatory burdens,” he said. “It’s already difficult to own a small business or a business in general.”
The candidate who earns the most votes in the Nov. 2 election becomes council president, and the second place finisher becomes vice president. Both candidates will earn four-year terms. The third place finisher will serve a four-year term, and the fourth place candidate will serve a two-year term.
Those interested in watching the rest of the chamber forum can do so by visiting Livonia TV’s YouTube page.