There are thousands of them in the USA and over 200 in the UK.  BIDs, or Business Improvement Districts, are a proven mechanism for driving local economic development and town centre revitalisation using an effective public-private partnership mechanism.  In New Zealand there are 46 in the Auckland region, and a growing number in Wellington, as well as in regional  centres like Kaitaia and Hamilton.  We’ve had the pleasure of being involved with 35 of them, including setting quite a few up from scratch.

Why are BIDs so popular?

BIDs have flourished because they give business and property owners a strong voice and ability to act in ways that leverage local knowledge.  Let's face it, locals know their area better than anyone, and often have the strongest vision for its future success.  The model benefits from compulsory membership of businesses to fund the BID, which can then employ people to deliver a pre-agreed plan.  That’s where we often come in.  Using an independent party to research and develop a 3 to 5 year strategic plan makes a big difference when you’re trying to align competing individual interests, and looking to develop a spirit of cooperation and collaboration for a whole town.

Having helped re-establish BIDs in Manurewa and Hamilton, in 2013, Business Lab led the establishment of Enterprise Miramar Peninsula, which became the first BID in the Wellington region.  It was a tough assignment, with a wide variety of interests ranging from the Weta Workshop businesses to garden centres and small retail.  And then, in 2015, Business Lab led the set-up of BIDs in Kilbirnie and Blenheim.  One failed and one succeeded, with Blenheim narrowly deciding – through the democratic process – not to establish a formal BID at this stage.

We’re always learning from these projects, as well as from other related work in local economic development initiatives that is going on around the country.  With each assignment we understand better and better how the dynamics of local economies and town centres work, and how BIDs can be such a powerful influence on how towns evolve and thrive.

How are BIDs set up?

A typical BID establishment project can run for up to nine months, and sometimes longer.  It starts with the formation of a steering group made up of passionate BID proponents.  Ideally, this is a representative group with people who are widely respected in the local community.  These local BID champions are keys to the success of a BID establishment project, and they work alongside our team and the supporting council throughout the project.  Having a good and well-recognised leader is also critical.  When BIDs are first set-up they need to get things done to prove their value, and they need to unite the community around their plan.  Solid leadership and a well-researched strategy that has community support is vital.  Our work in Picton during 2014 as part of the Smart and Connected Marlborough programme demonstrated this perfectly.  Our engagement process identified an ideal leader that could galvanise the community, which led to support for a number key projects that will make a real difference to the future of that town.

For a BID to be established, the local council of an area must have a BID policy in place that sets out the rules of engagement.  This partnership with the local council is fundamental because the council is the only organisation that can collect the membership fees as a targeted rate; which then ensures the BID’s ongoing financial sustainability.  There’s usually no strings attached to how the money is spent, so long as the BID adheres to its strategic plan.  Generally, councils will have governance and accountability checks to ensure the money is properly spent; and increasingly our team supports BIDs with their governance and implementation work with an on-call advisory service and scheduled plan reviews. 

Deciding the boundary of the BID area and engaging strategically

Working together with the council, the group promoting the BID (typically, the steering group and supportive business leaders / landlords) agree a boundary that determines which businesses are in, and which are out of the BID area.  This can be a significant and mportant strategic decision, as recent efforts to establish BIDs in Warkworth have shown.  Going too wide can mean too many businesses that aren't able to see the value of a BID; whereas, going to narrow can mean insufficient funds to get anything done.  It's a delicate balance; and what we've noticed is that having an independent party who understands the process can add real value to help people consider the initiative objectively.

The challenge at this earlystage is to engage with as many businesses and property owners as possible, and uncover those who understand the true strength and opportunity that a collaborative effort can deliver.  We focus significant effort on this phase of the process, and use it to build up a database of good ideas, whilst finding out which initiatives enjoy popular support.  From that we can begin to develop an effective 3 to 5 year strategic plan.   This is the plan that underpins the BID champion’s campaign up to the BID poll when all business and property owners have their democratic opportunity to vote for or against setting up the BID.

The key to making it work

BID establishment projects can be really challenging - but hugely fullfiling.  A lot of voluntary time and effort is needed, and they necessarily traverse a complex stakeholder environment with competing interests and a desire to minimise additional costs.  But belonging to a BID is really an investment; probably one of the best investments a business can make.  We know from experience that BIDs are the most effective advocates for local areas – which means that the business community gets heard with a loud and powerful voice.  They also do a great job to market the area as a whole, and make sure it looks good and feels safe.

During the set-up process a large part of our work is to ensure a supportive environment for the group of people proposing the BID.  It can be hard and thankless work!  There are always businesses that oppose an additional rate on principle and, like empty vessels, they tend to make a lot of noise.  Having an independent party to facilitate and mediate makes a huge difference.  And, by uncovering the issues that unite people, rather than divide them, we help develop a spirit of collaboration that musters around an aspirational shared plan for the future. 

How can we help?

Business Lab has worked with over30 different BIDs and business associations aspiring to become BIDs.  In setting up new BIDs we provide assistance in the following areas:

  • Advice on best practice BID policy content for councils
  • Establishing and facilitating the BID steering group
  • Helping to develop an accurate and comprehensive register of eligible voter
  • Guiding meaningful and effective stakeholder engagement to maximise support for the proposed BID plan at poll time
  • Assisting with development of an effective ‘Vote Yes’ campaign that complies with BID policy requirements
  • Advising on governance arrangement for the new BID organisation
  • Supporting governance and implementation of BID plans

For more details about how we can support you, contact Colin Bass: colin@businesslab.co.nz or call 021 424 952.

The BID model is similar around the world.  This great video about the Truro BID in the southwest of England outlines the full range of benefits and why it makes sense for businesses to invest a small amount of money every year into funding a BID.