City/County Co-location: Taking Care of Business

The issue of co-location has been on the minds of most everyone these days.  City and county councils are concerned about the cost benefits of such a move. The Mayor and the Commissioners have concerns about functionality.  The media has asked for more transparency in the process. The members of the task force struggled through personal and policy confrontations, as well as individual priorities to reach a common goal.  Business leaders became frustrated with a protracted and contentious process that they felt reflected negatively on our communities’ ability to attract jobs.  Through all this, the citizens of Fort Wayne and Allen County watched and wondered, not just about the end result of these discussions, but about how it will affect them in terms of taxes, ease of interaction with local government and pride in our community.

The one significant gap in the discussions I have seen so far has been a focus on customer service. Today, a business owner who wants to build a building in Allen County must navigate a bureaucratic labyrinth of offices scattered over several square miles of downtown and near-north Fort Wayne. There are 14 offices to visit and receive approval from and no help for the weary traveler who just wants to build or expand a business and hire local residents.  In frustration many give up and go elsewhere.

It’s time that we started TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS in Fort Wayne. Today we can reverse this sad state of affairs; today we can start the process to light up our welcome sign and say to the business world, “We are open, we are ready and we want you!”

It is mandatory that all 14 offices in the routing process be located or represented in routing order on the first floor of the new Renaissance Square location.  I propose that there be priority parking in front – let employees and elected officials park in the back of the lot – with big welcome signs and directions on how to get “down to business” in Fort Wayne and Allen County.  I propose that the first person you see when you walk into the first floor isn’t security but a friendly greeter who directs you to where you need to go.  If Wal-Mart can do it, so can we!  If you are building or expanding a business, you will be directed to our Business Concierge Service.  We will have a single point of contact to guide you through our self-imposed bureaucratic maze. We will make it easy to locate, build and hire here in Allen County.   We can do this today, we can reverse the sins of the past and we can make a real difference by simply using common sense and being polite.

We can do this for business and we should.  Our customer service attitude doesn’t have to stop there.  Currently, our neighborhood advocates are hidden away in ninth floor offices.  We need to send a definitive message to our neighborhoods today.  They are wanted, they are needed and they are the lifeblood of our city.   Move neighborhood advocates to the first floor, open the process of communication and prioritize them now.
We must look at the services that our city provides, and we must look at how we can do so in the most convenient, cost effective and friendly way.  Let’s consider what is good for the people who pay for the buildings, the salaries and the services.  Let’s consider the needs of our customers, not the next election.  Let’s consider how we look to our neighbors and to the world by taking care of businesses, working with our citizens and making our interaction easy and pleasant.

My parents taught me that using common sense and being polite are two of the most basic building blocks of success.  It is time we apply these two principles in local government and in this process of co-location.  This will be my mission as we move forward.  I ask my friends and colleagues to get behind the concepts of common sense and being polite by locating our routing on the first floor, providing easy access for neighbors and greeting every citizen with a welcoming smile.

Paula Hughes
President, Allen County Council

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