The City of West Columbia is open for business.
“We’re clean, we’re safe and a good place to be,” said B.J. Unthank, the city’s economic development director. “And we’re looking for ways to say ‘yes’ to new business.”
He said West Columbia offers lower taxes and lower water rates, and that’s attractive to potential businesses.
Unthank also said West Columbia is a one-stop-shop to make the process for entrepreneurs an easy one.
Mayor Bobby Horton also said West Columbia is business friendly. He said the city makes the process of doing business simple and pleasant for all businesses, big and small. It is one of the keys to growth. Horton said the offices for business licenses, zoning, and inspections, and utilities are adjacent to each other. He also said it’s important to put the right employees in positions.
“We have good, capable people, who know how to help, in those jobs,” Horton said.
One of the first faces you’ll see at that one-stop-shop is the face of Ellen Ravenell. She oversees applications for new business.
Ravenell said she strives to be efficient, prompt and informative.
“We had a woman apply for a license for a beauty salon recently,” Ravenell said. “She told us the process went so fast.”
Part of the reason for the high rate of satisfaction attached to the City of West Columbia is experience.
“I came to work here in 1998,” said Ravenell. She’ll mark her 20-year milestone this year. In her time with the city, Ravenell has become familiar with the process.
“We answer all questions, point them in the right direction and we give them an information sheet,” she said.
In addition to guidance, business license applicants can follow-up with phone calls to Ravenell’s office if they do not understand something.
Building Inspector Stuart Jones is promptly contacted in response to a business license request. He checks the property of a potential new business location to make sure it complies with the current codes of the city. Jones also inspects a site to make sure it is structurally sound.
If there is an issue, as a part of the city’s effort to assist, Jones responds quickly because “I’m the point of contact,” Jones said. “I try to work with folks to make sure it’s as painless as possible. And I try to accommodate them as soon as I can.”
He said making the process go smoothly helps the West Columbia business community grow.
Another part of the process of starting a new business involves Wayne Shuler, West Columbia’s Director of Planning and Zoning. When an application for a business license is made, a zoning compliance form is attached. If the requested use matches the zoning designation, Shuler quickly approves the application. If zoning changes have to be made the application is expedited. “We do our best to be problem solvers,” said Shuler.
Another quality associated with the City of West Columbia is its customer service. Tabitha Bundy is the city’s Water Service Coordinator. She is on the front lines as it relates to the public, interacting with people doing business with the city.
“We make customer service a priority,” said Bundy. “We put customer service first.”
Bundy said her department works to quickly process applications for water and sewer service.
“We really care,” said Bundy. “We want the customer to be happy.”
Bundy said office staff make every effort answer the phone promptly. And they return calls when that is necessary.
Bundy has been with the city for 10 years. She has been in customer service for almost 30 years. In that time she has learned the value of being friendly and courteous. And she applies that to her job in West Columbia.
The attention to the people has earned West Columbia a reputation. All departments said they routinely receive feedback about how well the application processes go for customers. It’s another reason to like West Columbia.
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