APEX — Town planning director Dianne Khin offers this advice to new business owners: Don’t sign a lease on a piece of property before you get a certificate of zoning compliance and meet with the building inspections department.
It might sound like a bunch of government red tape, but those steps can save entrepreneurs time, money and frustration, said Khin, who spoke during a workshop on Wednesday for new business owners in Apex.
The workshop was a partnership between the town and the Apex Chamber of Commerce, which often fields calls and complaints from businesses about everything from zoning to signs.
The idea was to help business owners understand how to comply with town rules. About a half-dozen participants had a chance to talk with town staffers who work in finance, inspections and the fire department.
Michael Markham, 35, of Apex owns Big Mike’s BBQ, a food truck that has been so successful over the past 18 months that Markham now wants to open a restaurant. He’s looking to lease space on Center Street at the former site of Toppers Pizza.
“I have a lease that we are ready to sign,” Markham said. “I came here to make sure we have everything we need. My biggest issue is if we can cook with a real pit.”
Apex Fire Marshal Karl Huegerich assured Markham it could be possible, with proper ventilation.
“It's just going to take some figuring out,” Huegerich said.
As an Apex resident and a business owner, Markham said the workshop provided some reassurance.
“It makes me feel encouraged that the town is going to work for you,” he said.
A focus on customer service
Apex officials said repeatedly during the workshop that customer service was a top priority.
“There are always concerns,” said Town Manager Bruce Radford. “This is an in-depth process. The chamber has received concerns raised from folks who attempt the process on their own. We do take a hands-on approach. Oftentimes there are some lingering questions.”
Business owners often complain about the town’s sign rules that regulate size, quantity and distance from the street. Some say the strict rules hurt their businesses’ visibility.
But Eric Wagner, 45, of Holly Springs said he is willing to take a chance on Apex.
Wagner wants to open the town’s first microbrewery, Brüeprint Brewing. . He’s hoping to open by the end of the year.
Wagner said he attended Wednesday’s workshop to put some faces with names.
“I want to make sure it’s a smooth application process, and I wanted to introduce myself,” he said. “It's been a pleasant process so far.”
Apex isn’t exactly a hub for commercial development. The town’s tax base is about 80 percent residential and 20 percent commercial.
The town spends less than $32,000 a year on economic development – small change compared to some other area municipalities.
Apex formed an economic development commission about a year ago, which conducted an analysis on the town’s strengths and weaknesses. But it hasn’t done much else.
Even so, the bedroom community has gotten some national attention. Radford pointed out that Apex was recently ranked ninth on Money magazine’s list of the best small towns in America.