When Pete Buttigieg was elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in 2012, he was intent on reversing an economic decline that's plagued the city of 100,000 since the local Studebaker factory closed in 1963. A critical part of doing that was making the city friendlier to business--which meant rewiring it to run more efficiently. "Especially in places where the rules can't change," says Buttigieg, "we can at least change the experience."
In many towns like South Bend, business owners are trapped in bureaucratic purgatory--unanswered questions, inscrutable forms, and unconscionable wait times. A former McKinsey & Company consultant, Buttigieg had observed the effects of convoluted regulations on industry and wanted to see if city government could do better.
1. Upgrade the experience
What he's developed is a kind of concierge service for companies in South Bend. Each business owner working with the government gets a single point of contact who liaises with all relevant agencies--building, engineering, sanitation, public works, zoning, and others--to identify requirements and, if necessary, help the business meet them. The city officials who run the service share their mobile numbers, so if a business owner has a question, she can get it answered anytime. "Think about how globally inefficient it is for each business individually to learn all of the different hoops they have to jump through," says Buttigieg. "Instead, somebody in our building will take them by the hand and jump through the hoops with them."
2. Reduce bureaucracy
The city is also streamlining progress-choking paperwork. For example, the Department of Community Investment pared 17 pages' worth of forms down to two double-sided sheets. And it's planning to issue business licenses and permits online. Meanwhile, South Bend's city council is preparing for an overhaul of existing regulations by "poring through the code book to figure out what is obsolete or overlapping," says Buttigieg.
3. An urban makeover
Already, companies like JSK Hospitality are discovering South Bend's allure. The hotel developer typically plants its properties in suburbs, which are less bureaucratically complex. Then, last year, it decided to give South Bend a chance with a new upscale hotel. The developer was paired with a local government official, and the city came up with a solution that allowed JSK to meet EPA storm-water rules without building a large retention pond. "They helped us navigate this labyrinth," says Dan Boecher, JSK's vice president of development. "They let us know they weren't going to throw regulation out the window, but they were going to find ways to get things done as expeditiously as possible."