The Fed Up Gander Business Action Group is seeking a better way to do business in the central Newfoundland town.
Group member Kerry Noble said for years there has been ongoing difficultly with town staff in moving business ventures forward, particularly in the development sector.
The group, which was officially formed in January and represents 25 businesses, is speaking publicly – there’s even an electronic billboard ad and a blogpost page – in an effort to try to catch council’s attention.
Their common concerns, determined through a survey of its membership, revolves largely around the town’s involvement in development projects, such as permitting and revisions.
There’s also concern surrounding the appeal process.
“In a nutshell, there’s not an appeals process that allows a business person – the developer, the contractor – to get past the staff,” he said.
Noble said in a roundabout way, a disputed decision between a business and town staff that goes through a department committee or council gets referred back to town staff.
“I understand council has to consult with staff, they are the full-time people, and I’m sure they are doing a great job,” he said. “But what we’re saying is when we hit a brick wall we need a legitimate appeal.”
If not, he said, it’s either give up or take the matter to court – something that is done at the expense of the involved business and taxpayers.
He feels there is difficulty in working with the town and it’s reflecting poorly in enticing new business to the area.
“It’s been difficult. If it weren’t this organization” wouldn't be here, he said.
“The Town of Gander might say it’s only a small group of businesses, but this is the group of businesses that have built Gander in recent time.”
More than anything, Noble said, the group wants Gander to listen to businesses.
In the middle of it is the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce. While in a difficult position, as both the town and Fed Up Gander businesses are members, president and CEO Hazel Bishop said it’s trying to help find a solution.
“We have to make sure their needs are met fairly, to try and come to some amical resolve,” she said.
‘Has to be rules’
Gander Mayor Percy Farwell acknowledged meeting with the group, and he is interested in what businesses have to say when it comes to concerns about doing business in Gander.
When it comes to the town’s involvement in business matters, such as permitting and development regulations, he said it’s about protecting Gander and its people.
“If you’re trying to have a progressive, well developed community, there has to be rules, regulations and agreements to be followed,” he said. “We don’t want to be, nor are we resourced, to do the design work for developers … if what we get is not compliant with the required standards, which is in place for the protection of the community, then yes there will be revisions.”
Speaking to the appeals process, Farwell said it does seek the guidance of its staff, determining the rationale behind a decision.
“We have to make decisions not based on an individual case, but what makes the best sense for the town in general,” he said. “No matter how many appeal processes you have, (there will still be cases) where you still don’t get your way.”
Farwell said this can be a frustrating process, and if there’s concern, he encourages dialogue.
The town is currently revisiting its business-related regulations and will be working with the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce for outreach to area business to get a sense of what needs to be done. It will also be engaging business outside of Gander, which conducts work for the town, about their experiences as well.
“We know we don’t have perfect regulations. We’ll never have perfect regulations, especially if that means everyone is happy,” Farwell said. “We have to look at the greater good, we have to treat everyone fairly and consistently.
“Nobody here is anti-business,” he added.