Despite considerable efforts by the current and previous Boards of Management, many people still don’t clearly understand what exactly a Business Improvement Area (BIA) is. Let’s review some of the key elements of what BIAs are, what they do, how they work, how they’re funded and what the benefits are of being a part of one.
What Are They?
Here’s how the website of the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association defines what a BIA is: “A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is a ‘made-in-Ontario’ innovation that allows local business people and commercial property owners and tenants to join together and, with the support of the municipality, to organize, finance, and carry out physical improvements and promote economic development in their district. Traditionally, a BIA is a body established by a municipality using the specific business improvement area provisions in the Municipal Act, 2001. It is governed by a board of management. Business and property owners or others can request that a BIA be designated by a municipal bylaw. BIAs are local entities. The legislation states they are local boards. People also refer to the geographic area designated by a municipality for a BIA as the BIA.”
What Can a BIA Do?
Local businesses, working collectively as a BIA, become catalysts for improving the local business environment and quality of life of the community. As a legal organization mandated by provincial legislation, BIAs are able to create and manage a budget and, through the municipality, collect a levy from businesses in the area to raise the necessary funds for that budget.
BIAs improve their local economies through activities such as:
- Pursuing street level enhancements, furnishings, beautification measures and other improvements to make the area more inviting in order to attract more local residents and visitors.
- Promotion of the BIA as a business, employment, wellness, tourism or shopping area through the creation and effective use of marketing materials, events, advertising, social media.
- Seeking out learning and development opportunities, government funding initiatives and other tools that help support the growth of the businesses of their members.
- Hosting both BIA and community-led festivals and events in the Downtown area.
- Ensuring community safety through diligence, observance and advocacy.
- Creating strategic plans for economic development, business recruitment, market research and other improvements on behalf of the members.
- Building relationships and partnerships with other groups, organizations and municipal government to build a stronger community.
- Advocacy on behalf of their members as a unified voice on matters that are important to and significantly impact the membership.
How Does a BIA Work?
A BIA is run by a volunteer Board of Management elected from its members. The Board is nominated at an Annual General Meeting and, once approved by municipal council, serves a four-year term concurrent with the term of Council. The Board works on behalf of its members and meets monthly to develop budgets, set priorities, implement and encourage beautification efforts, plan events, oversee day-to-day operations of the organization and promote its member businesses.
How is a BIA Funded?
Once the BIA members approve the budget and municipal council approves it, funds are raised through a levy on all commercial and industrial properties within the BIA’s boundary or footprint. Calculation of this levy is based on the proportionate value of each property’s commercial and/or industrial assessment (MPAC). Once the Municipality collects the levy, it forwards the funds to the BIA to manage.
What Are the Benefits of a BIA?
By creating a vibrant neighbourhood commercial area and marketing it effectively, BIAs can help their member businesses better compete in an age of big-box retailing and online shopping. By working collectively, BIAs can help small “Mom & Pop” businesses increase their chances of success by leveraging the collective efforts, resources, expertise and knowledge of other member businesses.
BIAs can also work to protect the best interests of their members when dealing with matters involving various levels of government on a variety of issues. BIAs can be catalysts for civic improvement and significant contributors to the local economy and help improve the quality of life of the greater community by working collectively with other groups and organizations to help preserve the unique built heritage and natural assets of the community.
If you ever have any questions about BIAs, or are simply curious about what’s happening Downtown, just send us an email at email@example.com and we’ll add you to the mailing list for our monthly newsletter. There’s always something going on in Downtown Kemptville.