Home Workers/Coworkers Town Meeting in Carrboro

Do you work at home? Are you a telecommuter? Run a business from your home office? The Town of Carrboro wants to know how it can help you. On May 8 at 10 am in room 100 of the Carrboro Town Hall the Economic Development Department of the Town of Carrboro will be conducting a public forum to discuss this topic. Please share your needs and wants in the comments. If you know other people that work at home who might be interested in participating in the conversation, please invite them. If you can't make it let me know and we'll work on a second meeting.




Brian, this is a very exciting initiative, particularly the possibility of creating a coworking space. Anecdotal evidence is that Carrboro has a host of home-based workers and entrepreneurs. Helping to identify those businesses and gain an understanding of their needs will allow us to strengthen that sector of the local economy. This was a point of emphasis of Michael Shuman at the BOA retreat.


Do home businesses in Carrboro have to have a zoning complance permit and pay a privilege tax as in Chapel Hill? Is there an enforcement mechanism?

From my letter in today's CHN, you might gather that I have an opinion or two on this.

We pay a privilege tax and receive a "privilege tax license." The proposed schedule for 2007-08 is on pg 17 here.

Is there an enforcement mechanism?

Fred--I understood the sentiments/frustration in your column yesterday, but not all home businesses are as low-impact as yours. There was a big brouhaha in my neighborhood several years back over a daycare service. Constant traffic and noise. Signage. etc. And yet there are others that like yours, most wouldn't even know existed if they choose to not comply with the law. Maybe there needs to be a 'sliding scale' based on the nature of the business?

Agree Terri. Since 1939 when local governments got this taxing authority, the whole thing has been political, as the GA included some and exempted other business. Some will tell you that the criteria had to do with the businesses that they and their friends were in.

For a consultant to pay $100, for example, is not a big deal. Why they are paying it and the compliance thing are, and they are matters of principal. Raising only $130,000 per year with this tax says it all! Remember that in a prior budget cycle, the Town of Chapel Hill wanted to raise the tax? Of course, only those home businesses who volunteer to obey the law would have paid it!

Actually the local communities should be figuring out enticements for local home-grown & home-based businesses rather than taxing them. Large out-of-town corporations shopuld have to pay a privilege tax because, with all the costs they externalize onto the community, it is a true privilege for them to be allowed to do business in any community.

Can anyone post a link to something explaining the Chapel Hill policy for comparison?

In Carrboro, we are definitely interested in ways to promote and support home-based businesses. A first step the BOA will be taking will be to review Land Use Ordinances that might impact home-based businesses. This discussion is scheduled for our June 12 work session. Hopefully we will learn more from the meeting next week.

As a telecommuter I could use some more quite places to plug a laptop into. What are some resources you need to work when you'd like to get out of the house once in awhile?

Ruby, if you mean the Chapel Tax policy, here is the link to the Business License Tax. Note the four schedules, especially Schedule A, and note that these businesses are exempt by the GA and not the Town.

Here's a Carrboro schedule that appears pretty comparable to the one Dan linked to, but that does not involve turning your head or your computer on its side to read.


Once again Carrboro is leading the way. One of my 2005 campaign planks involved removing impediments/improving the environment for home-based/telecommute-oriented business in Chapel Hill.

One part of that was to improve our technology infrastructure ala the muni-networking initiative. Quite a bit of the new cottage industry is based on the 'net, why not make strategic investment based on the new reality?

Of course, we haven't been so good on seizing opportunities - like using a WiMax/Wifi-based bus notification system - to do so (though Council has allocated some funding for tagging along with the NC-DOT fibre build-out).

Another part is having someone help create and manage an economic development plan incorporating home-based business. I called for it then, Council has finally filled the position. Bassett, the new EO for Chapel Hill seems to be oriented towards downtown land developments - I'll be interested in hearing his thoughts on home-based/technology-oriented business development (incubators/infrastructure/investment).

Another key part is tax policy. The local tax policy should not be a disincentive to developing home-based or small startup businesses. I thought the business license tax was ineffective for what it putatively did, was poorly managed in any case and certainly didn't bring in revenue worth the hassle factor (and even if it did, the revenue wasn't redirected effectively into economic development).

Ideas gathered so far:
* WiFi
* Good Tax Policy (ie low Taxes)
* Quite place to work
* electricity for laptops

This is a good start. What are some other resources home workers and telecommuters need? Come on creative people... share your ideas! :)

Are home based business subject to Orange County's Business Personal Property Tax? The County website lists "office equipment/computers, furniture" as taxable property. If so, how is this enforced?

Here's a few:

"Virtual" office space - some space that can be reconfigured for temporary office use/conferencing when you pull your team together

List of businesses that provide support services for telecommuters (hot spot access, printing, shipping, repair, etc.)

Registry of home-based businesses - linking producers and consumers of services, etc.

Once positioned via infrastructure improvements/economic strategy, aggressively recruiting national businesses - like Best Buy, Penny's, etc. that have embraced the telecommuting ethic as smart business strategy.

Kind of a side note, but what is Carrboro (and what could Chapel Hill) do to increase telecommuting by their own workforce? If staff doesn't need to drive in 2 or 3 days from Alamance county, what policies are in place to support that?
(frankly, I believe the old management-style Chapel Hill use to run under wouldn't have supported this, under Stancil there's great hope).

Another side note, is Carrboro supporting State legislation that supports tele-commuting both by State staff and private companies? Some European countries (and I think California now?) gives carbon credits for keeping folks at home. With the Triangle poised for grid lock, what's a better bang for our tax bucks - $28M per mile for TTA's rail project or $28M to buildup our communications infrastructure to support localization of business activity?


I would emphasize the importance of other comforts of the office which are often taken for granted, like comfortable furniture and clean bathrooms, if anyone is serious about pursuing a co-working location.

Beyond that, what about getting a local office supply company to the west end of town / Carrboro? Maybe I've been missing out, but I can't think of any place to buy something more complicated than a pack of pens without going to Staples, unless I'm willing to go on campus to Student Stores.

Of course, I'm speaking from my perspective as a student, but I would imagine that most creative / home work wouldn't be that far off from my day, mostly reading, writing, processing papers, and spending copious amounts of time on the computer.

Free display space for local artists? Co workers get the benefit of viewing art (comfortable) and artist get their work out there...

There will always be plenty of jobs requiring the movement of workers from home to work but, and I believe sooner than later, the practice of moving "office" workers from home to work will be considered "quaint".

Chapel Hill should be a hot spot for this trend. We need to develop a strategy and a plan of action that embraces this new way of doing business so that we can ride the wave up.

Again, if you were to spend $28M building infrastructure , let's say in North Raleigh, that untethers 25,000-40,000 employees formerly driving 50-60 miles round-trip to RTP as opposed to the $28M per mile to move them physically to the Park - what would be a better near term investment?

Consider that the same infrastructure doubles as a conduit for further education. Multiply it by many of the other advantages keeping your workforce localized to their homes (if not in their homes, in pleasant commercial or public places, close enough to stroll to) and you get a sense of where we should be going with public policy - here, Carrboro, Durham and Raleigh.

Also, take a look at theFAQs for the Midway Business Center that EmPOWERment operates. The services that it provides and the assistance has been invaluable for startups. The conference room has been particularly important as a place to meet with funders, clients, and others.

Knowing what assistance and other type of resources are out there is a good thing to bring together and make available. As they constantly changes, it needs frequent monitoring.

As the owner of a home-based construction company, I really appreciate the system that Orange County uses to communicate with contractors. They send out e-mails following every building inspection, which saves time, gas, pollution, etc. because no-one needs to visit the job site just to find out how an inspection went. You can also check on the status of your permit application at the county web-site. Simple stuff, but very convenient. I don't know why Carrboro and Chapel Hill don't do the same thing.

Support service needs for home-based workers was addressed in the public meetings held last summer as part of Carrboro's economic development planning process. Is this new effort meant to add to what has already been done or is it starting all over?

Thanks for the ideas. Keep them coming. Very productive. Here is the running list.

* WiFi
* Good Tax Policy (ie low Taxes)
* Quite place to work
* electricity for laptops
* “Virtual” office space - some space that can be reconfigured for temporary office use/conferencing when you pull your team together
* List of businesses that provide support services for telecommuters (hot spot access, printing, shipping, repair, etc.)
* Registry of home-based businesses - linking producers and consumers of services, etc.
* Town Government to consider letting their employees work in coworking spots and at home
* comfortable furniture
* clean bathrooms
* Office supplies available closer to downtown
* More Electronic communications from government to business (ex. email, web...)

Howdy, all.

Here's a question for Dan, or others in the know: Does the Carrboro privilege tax apply to me, and others like me?

Four years ago I set up shop as a market research analyst in my (rented) home in Carrboro. No physical goods are sold, I have no employees other than myself, and no business traffic comes to my place. Ninety-nine percent of my work is done via phone, computer, and Internet.

When I was first starting in business, I described this over the phone to a town staffer (I can't recall who), and was advised that, under those circumstances, I should not need a business license. However, should I have been paying privilege tax to the town, however small an amount it may be? Or is a setup such as mine exempt, as I was first told?

Thanks much,
Mark H.

Laurin, against the grain can be corrected - one way or another ;-)

Terri is correct that this item was discussed at the May, 2006 public meetings. However, that discussion did not find its way into the RTS report Creating Carrboro's Economic Future. The report did say that:

Of the 1,077 people in Orange County working in the creative economy, 744 are self-employed. Most of these are independent artists, musicians, and writers, but the architect, photographer, and design consultant categories are also dominated by the self-employed.

However, it does not draw any conclusions from those numbers in regard to those self-employed. The topic was raised at the retreat by Michael Shuman and the board felt it was worth pursuing.

BTW and in line with what Brian is trying to do, during the 2005 election, then-candidate Randee Haven O'Donnell called for Carrboro to "expand infrastructure to support a mobile telecommunicating workforce."

During last year's budget cycle I pushed to get the Home Occupation Application Fee back down to $50 from the $100 it was set to, the year prior. I made the argument that this would be an environmental decision---less people on the roads travelling to work is something that we should encourage...not fee to death. I asked the staff for info on this and I am remembering that Carrboro's fee was I think $50?, etc (lower than ours) and was wondering why we had such a large fee---why had it doubled in one year? I found out that the reason we increased that one was that we had increased other fees generally----then I found out that the Town would only collect something like $3000 more per year if we kept the fee at $100. This is all buried somewhere in budget work session minutes from last year, but the Daily Tarheel mentioned it in their article about me as a new councilmember and how I often seemed to vote against the crowd....bottom line, we should reward those who can work at home....those of us who are lucky enough to do that. Not sure that I want to fill teeth in my home. :)

I'm sorry to hear that the details of the home occupation discussions from the economic development public meetings didn't make it into the final report. I went to both of the public meetings and in both of the small groups, that was the dominant topic of conversation. In the second meeting (focused on the arts), the small group I was in expressed their preference not to focus on supporting a home-based workforce. Their reasoning was that the cost of living and making art in Carrboro is already too expensive because of the dependence on residential property tax. If there is a stronger support system, then more consultants will move in (sorry Fred!) and housing costs will rise even more, along with property taxes.

Mark H,
My understanding is that anyone doing business in Chapel Hill or Carrboro and falling within one of the identified classes is supposed to pay the privilege tax.

Dan should have also pointed out that the Town of Carrboro's new economic development strategy does place a large emphasis on locally owned businesses including and especially homebased businesses. This strategy was adopted based on a discussion of the RTI report and a presentation by Michael Shuman. See www.smallmart.org for more.

I misunderstood this post earlier today. I thought Brian said the town of Carrboro was doing this, but as I understand it now, this forum is part of a marketing study for a revolving loan application. Good luck with the forum Brian and with the business plan. I'm all for private businesses coming in to provide support services for home businesses. I just don't see any economic development value in the town investing tax dollars to provide such services.

I'm a creative design professional who works at home. I want to talk with other people in similar situations and find mutual support mechanisms. By getting together and talking in person we can do that. I think its wonderful that the Town of Carrboro wants to facilitate this.

My sincere goal is to help freelance professionals, home-office workers, entrepreneurs, startup business owners, tech workers, creative professionals, etc. They are all part of the creative class that the Town of Carrboro already does a great job of attracting. Now that we're here what more can be done to support them?

The one thing I remember from last summer's discussions is that folks wanted physical space for meetings (large and small).


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