BIDs, or Business Improvement Districts, are a proven international model for driving local economic development and town centre revitalisation using an effective public-private partnership mechanism.
There are nearly 1,000 BIDs in the US. Auckland rivals London with both having almost 50 BIDs. There is a growing number in Wellington, as well as in regional centres like Kaitaia and Hamilton. Business Lab have had the pleasure of being involved with over 35 of them, including setting quite a few up from scratch.
Why are BIDs so popular?
BIDs give business and property owners a strong voice and ability to act in ways that leverage local knowledge. 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.
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. 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.
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
Working together with the council, the group promoting the BID agree a boundary that determines which businesses are in, and which are out of the BID area. This can be a significant and important strategic decision. 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.
It is essential 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?
When setting up 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