Businesses identify permitting as challenge to grow business in Federal Way

Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce CEO says business retention is a top priority.

As the voice of business, promoting economic opportunity and supporting business connection is the mission of the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. It’s a responsibility our business leaders take seriously as we work to provide resources that can help to drive community growth.

Our businesses identified permitting/zoning/land use as the No. 2 challenge in their efforts to grow business. The chamber continues to hear from a wide variety of businesses sharing this concern and it is a strategic focus for the Board of Directors.

The permitting issue, however, has been challenging to get our arms around. Not the least of which reason is because we knew the results were likely to be negative. And some of them are. But that’s OK because we do not fear seeing other perspectives or acknowledging the validity of those views.

The following data is compiled from a customer satisfaction survey on the permitting process from the chamber membership. It is not a comprehensive review of every business that went through the process, and anonymous responses are not included.

Of the survey respondents, 61% had opened, renovated, expanded, or relocated to Federal Way in the last three years. New construction accounted for 39% of that growth, followed closely by tenant improvements and remodels at 36%.

Before development in Federal Way, businesses met with the stakeholders and development professionals. The largest initial entry into the permitting process was the city of Federal Way at 68%, followed by architects at 57%. Lakehaven Water and Sewer District and South King Fire & Rescue were both at 50%, contractors at 46% and franchise at 11%. Some respondents noted in their comments that they proactively reached out to all agencies in the beginning of the development to better facilitate the process.

Other business properties have been developed by respondents in the following locations: 10% Tacoma; 9% Federal Way, Seattle, Kent, Des Moines, Fife, Auburn; 6% in Puyallup, Renton: and 3% Covington, Milton, Edgewood.

The survey asked how service in Federal Way compared to other areas in which development occurred: 32% poor, 25% adequate, and 4% excellent. Thirty-nine percent answered not applicable.

The survey asked respondents to rate the experience with the following as excellent, adequate and poor. The permitting process rated 54% poor, 14% adequate and 32% excellent. Sign permits and code process rated 31% adequate, 19% poor, and 12% excellent. Inspection process rated 32% adequate, 18% excellent, and 14% poor. The online permitting process, while not utilized by 61% of respondents, was rated by those who did at 25% poor, 7% excellent and 68% adequate.

Businesses taking the survey shared the length of time spent in the permitting and inspection process. About 29% at two to six months, 25% at six to 12, 21% at 12-18 months, and 8% at one month or less. The development process created a delay in timelines for 58% of the businesses, creating a loss of revenue of 23%. There was no loss of revenue for 46% of respondents while 31% didn’t know and/or didn’t track it.

During the permitting process, businesses noted the development was subject to the following: 68% experienced fees, i.e. signage, plan review, other; 50% additional studies, i.e. traffic, other; 39% infrastructure code upgrades; and 25% were subject to revised requirements mid-process.

Asked how responsive permitting and inspection personnel were to questions and concerns, the survey showed 46% at somewhat responsive, 15% at very responsive, 12% for both not very responsive and not at all responsive. It was not applicable to 15%.

Overall service experience working with stakeholders was rated in the survey as follows: South King Fire & Rescue at 46% excellent, 23% adequate, and 31% not applicable. Lakehaven Water & Sewer District at 42% adequate, 15% excellent, 12% poor, and 31% not applicable. City of Federal Way at 46% poor, 31% adequate, 15% excellent, and 8% not applicable.

The chamber asked how satisfied or dissatisfied businesses were with the overall process of developing their business in Federal Way. About 8% were very satisfied, 24% somewhat satisfied, 8% neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, 20% somewhat dissatisfied, 32% very dissatisfied, and 8% not applicable.

Our economic development efforts are not harmed when we acknowledge we face challenges and are working to be better. This is the kind of healthy conversation around growth that businesses like to see. And we can do more than just talk about it.

From the chamber perspective of streamlining the permitting process for business, the survey results promote policy question for our elected officials.

Would you be willing to conduct a land-use review as part of the building permit process for outright, permitted uses—or revamping the land-use process entirely to make it more efficient?

Would you be willing to conduct a thorough review of the current municipal code to look for ways to streamline the permitting process?

Are you willing to allocate funding to fully staff the city’s Community Development and Public Works departments?

Progress can be hard. It’s not always easy working together for a greater good. But if we are strong enough to listen to each other and adjust our course to meet the needs of business, then economic prosperity is more easily within reach of us all. This is the path to success. And that is what it means to Take the Federal Way.

The chamber’s permitting survey is online at fedwaychamber.com/horizonsurveys

Rebecca Martin is the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. She can be reached at martin@federalwaychamber.com.

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