Photo by Levent Arabaci, OMN Archives
The rise of COVID-19 has highlighted the way communication between the city and local businesses could be improved, and possibly reintroduced the idea for implementing a business license program.
Business license programs may include a directory of some sort, which is managed by city staff and gathers information on contact information and business operations, according to Christina Rehkalu, executive director of Visit Corvallis.
“There are costs involved in operating this sort of program, and those are usually paid by businesses through license fees,” Rehkalu said. “A directory would need to be carefully managed to make sure information is accurate and reliable throughout the year.”
Kate Porsche, manager of the Economic Development Office in Corvallis, said cities who have business licenses use them as a way to understand who is doing business in their community and to keep a directory, should there be an emergency. In that case, the local government has a way to reach out to businesses to communicate information about the crisis and let them know available resources.
“If the city did move forward with a business license, we would want to think carefully about how to do this in a way that least impacts businesses, especially during these challenging times,” Porsche said. “Perhaps a waiver of fees until the economy improves.”
Porsche said consideration of the business license program is still very preliminary and they would want to hear from local businesses to structure it in a way that would make it mutually beneficial for both businesses and the city.
Rehklau said they have businesses contact Visit Corvallis because of their online presence, being their website and social media, as there is no charge for being listed on their website for visitor-facing businesses in Benton County or Corvallis City limits.
“We reach out to businesses in a number of ways, in-person, phone and email,” Rehklau said. “Due to maintaining a website and a visitor guide we try to be out in the community keeping up on what new visitor-facing businesses are opening or changing.”
Rehkalu said if businesses choose to become a Visit Corvallis member, they are sent a monthly newsletter, sales leads for sports tournaments and meetings for the lodging properties that are members. With COVID-19, Rehklau said Visit Corvallis does a lot more phone, Zoom and email communication.
In regards to funding, Rehklau not much would be subject to change for local businesses.
“When alternative lodging first came into popularity, there was a question about how many of these types of businesses existed as it was felt by the lodging industry that both traditional lodging and alternative lodging should have to remit the transient lodging tax,” Rehklau said.
“In 2019, Corvallis enacted an ordinance for third-party intermediaries such as Airbnb to remit the tax as well as any alternative lodging businesses.”
This means that if a business license program were in effect, lodging businesses in Corvallis will not have to pay extra in taxes, given that they are currently paying taxes to the city to fund other organizations.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Porsche said, their office compiled a list using information from the Secretary of State’s office and Benton County. Even with that, they still needed to do research on contact information such as phone numbers and email addresses of business owners.
“During the crisis, we have relied on the list we created as well as on our partner organizations such as the Corvallis and Philomath Chambers of Commerce, the Downtown Corvallis Associations and other business organizations to help us spread the word about resources and programs available to folks,” Porsche said. “Despite these resources, we still run into challenges reaching the entire business community.”
Simon Date, president and CEO of the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce, said via email that Corvallis has not had a business registry in the past, though it was pursued a number of years ago and never came to fruition.
“The real issue is reaching out to businesses who are not members who may need help, and who may not be aware of existing programs that are available for everyone,” Date said.
Date also said he does not see a registry program having any kind of negative impact.
“We need to solve the issue of cost—who administers it, and is it free to register—but having a list of all businesses in the city doesn’t have a downside,” Date said.
Currently, to contact local businesses, Date said the chamber reaches out to existing members electronically, and by visits and phone calls. It is done by word of mouth and dropping into new and existing businesses.
“We have a list of current and previous members who may have dropped their membership but we still have their information,” Date said. “Other than that, it’s Google.”
Date said a business registry program is something the chamber is ready to lead on. Though having a business registry is important in general, it has only been highlighted during these times.