Survey says Asheville unfriendly toward small businesses

If you’re thinking of starting up a small business in North Carolina, Asheville may not be the best choice according to a new Small Business Friendliness Survey from Thumbtack and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

The survey, conducted over 38 states and 82 metropolitan areas and including responses from over 12,000 small business owners, ranked Asheville dead last out of five North Carolina cities (Asheville, Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte and Winston-Salem). The cities were ranked on a scale from A+ to F using 11 metrics:

• Overall small business friendliness – (Asheville, C+)  (North Carolina average, C+)

• Ease of starting a small business – (AVL, D+) (NC, B)

• Ease of hiring a new employee – (AVL, B) (NC, C+)

• Overall regulatory friendliness – (AVL, C) (NC, B+)

• Friendliness of health and safety regulations – (AVL, D) (NC, B+)

• Friendliness of employment, labor and hiring regulations – (AVL, B) (NC, A)

• Friendliness of tax code – (AVL, D+) (NC, B-)

• Friendliness of licensing regulations – (AVL, B-) (NC, B+)

• Friendliness of environmental regulations – (AVL, C) (NC, B)

• Friendliness of zoning regulations – (AVL, B-) (NC, B)

• Availability of helpful training or networking programs – (AVL, D+) (NC, B)

According to the results above, Asheville ranked behind the N.C. averages in most of the metrics used. Raleigh, Charlotte and Durham all rated fairly high nationally in overall small business friendliness (Charlotte – A, Durham – B+, Raleigh – A-), and Charlotte was ranked 14 out of the 82 cities nationwide, while Asheville landed at 44.

“After a two-month survey of thousands of small business owners nationwide, Asheville’s friendliness towards small business can be rated against 81 other cities in the country,” said Jon Lieber, Chief Economist of in an email. “Creating a business climate that is welcoming to small, dynamic businesses is more important than ever, and Asheville’s small business community has said the city could do better.”

Small businesses in Asheville gave particularly low marks for the usability of local government websites, rating them second worst in the nation, according to Thumbtack.

North Carolina as a whole ranked 21 out of 38 states in the survey.


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9 thoughts on “Survey says Asheville unfriendly toward small businesses

  1. Unaffiliated Voter

    SO many regulations and hoops to jump thru here in Asheville due to DECADES of uber CONTROL by democrackkks, the party of slavery…they ruined our entire state, which is why we are paying for it now…

  2. This is totally bogus. Asheville is a fine place for small business.

    And, don’t ever listen to the rantings of someone who would hide behind a pseudo-name — “Unaffiliated Voter” is probably Moffitt who isn’t worth listening to at all … Mr. “unconstitutional” himself and drove the whole legislature off the cliff with him!

    • Dionysis

      Nah, this character has been posting under various screen names since Moffitt was wet-nursing. It’s always the same simple-minded thing…blasting Democrats (always spelled ‘democrackkks, which must tickle the poster to type out) and deifying Republicans as saviors of the universe.

  3. spoutinghorn

    Small business owners don’t build their businesses up anyways, someone else did that for them.

  4. Have to agree. I run a business outside of Asheville, and have been involved with ones in and out of the city.

    On perfect example- where I am now a business privilege license fee is a set cost, and under $20 per year. I go in, I pay, I am out in 5 minutes.

    Can anyone tell me what the fee will be in Asheville? Good luck- it isn’t easy. It is a convoluted formula based on your gross receipts, so you have to waste time calculating that then taking it to the city, and then they tell you what you owe. And the city by law has the right to audit your books or come inspect your business if they don’t like what you reported.

    So just on a business license tax- outside the city I pay a set fee, same every year, I know what it is. In and out, 5 minutes, a half page application.

    In Asheville? The more I take in (regardless of actual profit level) the more they take, I have to take sworn affidavits of my years receipts for the bureaucrats to inspect and hope they approve of my figures, filling out a lot more paperwork. Than I do now.

    Net result- in Asheville based on the formula (I am pretty sure I classified my business correctly and did it right) I would pay a tax rate that is 35x higher than what I pay now. It works out to a tax rate that is 97% lower where I am now. It only takes me 5 minutes to file and pay, compared to hours in Asheville when you factor filling out paperwork and actually finding a parking place and getting to city hall.

    That is just the cost of the privilege tax to open your doors.

    Want to put up a sign? Even a simple a-frame sandwich board type out front? That will cost you in Asheville, once again via a convoluted formula and you will waste time jumping through hoops.

    If I want to put up a sign I look at the sign ordinance, make sure I am in compliance, and put it up. No permits, no hoops to jump through, no fees or taxes. if I am in violation and somebody complains then the town says something.

    Between the increased difficulty and cost of doing business in the town, and the crazy real estate prices, I am far better off being outside and spending money to draw people out to me with good advertising than ever locating within the city limits.

    • Dionysis

      A very good example from your personal experience, well worth sharing. I wonder if others note just a bit of irony in the fact that Asheville touts itself as a progressive city while acting as if was the global epicenter of crony capitalism and bureaucratic over-reach. I’m pretty sure that if there was a way to do it, Asheville would charge for the air that visitors breath while they’re downtown. But still, businesses do open all the time for a reason, and many are quite successful.

      A different perspective on Asheville area businesses that I’ve been thinking about lately is just how poor customer service and follow-up is on the part of an inordinate number of small businesses, and even local branches of national outfits. In the ten years I’ve lived here, I have encountered repeated examples of this. Just now, for a current example, I have been waiting for three days to get a response to voice messages I left on Monday; one with a realtor to see a property, the other with an animal shelter about adopting a dog. I can only assume that realtors have more business than they can use and there is a shortage of animals to adopt. These types of experiences I can easily document, and they include all manner of (so called) services. When I find a dependable business (and there are many, to be sure), I hold on to them.

  5. I’m really curious about the methodology of the “survey.”
    If business owners in City A are asked to give a grade to their city for, say, ease of permitting, and others in City B, are we only polling people who have opened businesses in both City A and B? How did the pollsters choose their targets? If they polled only CIBO members they would get very different answers from those in AIR. Ashevillians on the left and right have a state-wide reputation as complainers and troublemakers – how did that fit into the poll results? I’m not at all convinced that this poll has any real meaning. As for Tim Glance’s story – I understand that he prefers to operate his business outside of town – but the privilege license structure in the City which costs more for bigger businesses means that a very small business might pay $100 per year and WalMart pays tens of thousands. I think that’s reasonable, but others may differ.

    • Cecil, you missed 90% of my point. For a council member to not get it may explain the survey results too.

      Throwing out the Wal-Mart point you interjected that is irrelevant (but gets that bad guy you want to tax in the response), just compare how my small business gets taxed and treated inside and outside Asheville.

      Outside Asheville in surrounding towns- for the same business, privilege taxes are much lower. Fletcher is $25 flat fee. Clyde is a whopping $5 flat fee.

      Other taxes- anything from signs to occupancy permits to whatever else Asheville chooses to tax on- are ALL higher in town. In fact many things are taxed in Asheville that are not in most surrounding communities. I can put a sign up where I am now and don’t have to pay anything to the town- and that makes sense, because they are not putting a sign up for me. The same sign in Fletcher, for example, that takes a $40 permit would cost $75 plus a 4% “technology fee” in Asheville- so almost twice the tax, just for putting up a sign. What justifies Asheville charging twice as much as Fletcher for the privilege of a person putting a sign up on their own building?

      That is just tax rates. The other issue is that the City of Asheville makes compliance with taxes and permitting harder and more complex. Time is a resource, and if you are in Asheville you will squander a lot more of it dealing with all the towns requirements than you will anywhere else in the surrounding area. Once again lets look just at the business license application.

      5 pages. To fill it our I have to get gross sales receipts from my records and do the math.

      Now look at the same license form for Fletcher.

      2 pages, only one that has to be filled out. And it can be done without having to dive into your accounting records and get figures out (that are none of the towns business anyway) because they have a flat fee of $25,

      A merchant in Asheville will still be looking up the numbers and filling out Ashevilles application in the same amount of time a merchant in Fletcher can walk into city hall, get the application, fill it out, pay his/her $25 and be done and out the door- and lets not get into trying to get into city hall in Asheville with the parking mess and then trying to get someone to help you in a timely fashion. 5-10 minutes in Fletcher, 1 hour or more in Asheville when you include time to fill out the forms and time from parking your car to getting back in your car going to city hall, for the same application.

    • You’ve never run a business and undoubtedly have never attempted to slug through the Asheville bureaucracy.

      Your WalMart comment is a red herring. Different rates can be charged without undue complexity.

      Bet you’d believe the poll had real meaning if you favored the output.

      Did you reimburse us for your misuse of your credit card, btw?

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