The city has a big perception problem, pointed out Ruben Gomez, economic development director, during Wednesday’s budget hearing. “I find the situation challenging, and challenging in many ways, but one of the most challenging is the perception,” said Gomez.
“We need to streamline the process,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman. “To get a CO [certificate of occupancy] it takes three to four visits to the city. We have to do something as soon as possible. We can’t bring new business to the city if we give them such hard time.”
William McKoy, the 3rd Ward councilman, pointed out that one of the ways the city can improve perception is to make it easier for folks to do business with the city. “It takes an inordinate amount of time in getting a permit,” said McKoy. Procuring a permit, McKoy pointed out, is a lengthy process that could be completed in a shorter time to improve ease of doing business in the city.
Gomez concurred that red tape is a big problem in the city, and it scares off potential business from coming in; however, he suggested that a certain expectation is setup for businesses. “It’s about setting the tone,” said Gomez, “in one city you may be able to get things done in 30 days in our city you gotta get it done in 60 to 90 days.”
“We definitely need to re-brand. We’re not the silk city anymore,” said Andre Sayegh, the 6th Ward councilman, who proposed an idea to create a volunteer tourism board that would identify likely attractions in the city and promote them to bring in an influx of tourists to improve the city’s image.
Gomez pointed out that outsiders’ perception of the city is harsh: he said, many think “Our streets are dirty. Buildings are full of graffiti, and our major publicity is about crime. We need to talk about other things other than crime.” Gomez said the city is working on improving its image, and one way he mentioned the city has begun to do this is by playing-up the good that is happening around the city. He mentioned a release that was issued two weeks ago informing newspapers of a recent award the city received for having good infrastructure in place for business.
Gomez said he hopes to issue more of these to “inundate” news organizations with positives things that are happening in the city to push down the constant stream of crime stories. “We gotta change the image,” said Gomez.
Sayegh, the council president, said that the city is already a destination, and it simply needs to coherently promote itself. He cited South Paterson which is dotted with ethnic restaurants that attracts visitors from around the region.
Although a lot of effort is in place to re-brand the city, one of the easiest to do is engage businesses at trade shows and networking events. “A very important piece of what we need to do is be able expose ourselves to everybody, and this means: participating in events, going to seminars, speaking engagements — and all of that turns into opportunities for us,” said Gomez. You cannot merely attend these events, said Gomez, but actually participate and take part in them to change the image people have of the city.
Gomez recognized that it’s not as easy as it sounds and it is costly to do. “It’s a very expensive proposition,” said Gomez of re-branding. “It requires a substantial amount of capital.”