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Business Ownership 101: How to Start a Business in Harlingen

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Harlingen, Texas - Starting a business is a dream to many Americans, but it can take a lot of work and planning before the dream of business ownership becomes a reality.

Sure, you’ve written a business plan for a restaurant, bar, or boutique, but that’s as far as this dream has progressed. There’s a lot to do, and it’s hardly uncommon for people looking to start a business to feel overwhelmed.

So what needs to happen? Where do you need to go, and what do you need to do next? Which permits will you need to begin improvements to the rental space?

These were just a few of the questions Harlingen Economic Development Manager and CEO Raudel Garza discussed during a Choose Harlingen meeting with city leaders.

Garza was joined by Beverly Loftus, the Harlingen EDC’s commercial development manager, Robert Gomez, the City of Harlingen’s chief building official, and Xavier Cervantes, the city’s planning director.

One of the first things that a potential business owner should consider, especially if they already have a specific property in mind, is the location and how it is zoned.

“We have different categories for commercial zoning, so depending on the type of business that is pursued, there may be different zoning categories for that business,” Cervantes said. “Hopefully, the property would be in a commercial corridor, which would make it easier to get that zoning.”

The planning department would also have to determine if the property is subdivided and if the property has the proper infrastructure, such as drainage, sidewalks, water, and electricity.

Once those are approved, the business owner would submit construction plans to the planning department for approval. The building plans are routed through several city departments and can take a minimum of two weeks for final approval.

“There are times they want to come in and remodel the space,” Gomez said. “In a case like that, there are documents the applicants will need to submit in order to apply for the building permit: the site plan, the floor plan, and possibly engineering may be required.”

Of course, there are instances where there’s no need for remodeling. This is most common with retail or restaurant space, Gomez said. In cases like these where the applicant wants to start a retail business in a retail space, the city will schedule a re-occupancy inspection.

There are also different rules for business owners looking to build an original structure. In this case, a building that is 5,000 square feet or larger will need plans that have already been approved by a licensed engineer.

Delivery services and logistics are one of the key industries in the South Texas region, and companies are often looking to start in industrial areas, particularly with a warehouse. In this case, they have to comply with the building codes, especially if there are necessary upgrades, and have to go through the permitting process.

However, just like with retail or restaurant spaces, if the use is the same as the building was designed for, the business would require a re-occupancy inspection.

So, where does the Harlingen EDC come in?

Sometimes Loftus will act as a liaison between the customer and the city and help them navigate the process of starting a business.

The Harlingen EDC may also offer incentives to new business owners who choose to locate their business in Harlingen, which usually requires completing a project review form.

The project review form is a key document that helps the Harlingen EDC advocate for this business to its board and may help determine incentivization.

“Sometimes those incentives are based on job creation, capital investment generated, and the sales tax that’s being created from that business,” Loftus said.

Garza said a meeting with the Harlingen EDC should be the first step of every potential business owner. This allows the corporation to showcase the Harlingen community, especially for those potential businesses with no ties to the community.

“You need to apply for these incentives before you buy the property, and before you actually make up your mind to build in Harlingen,” Garza said. “The incentives are for those people who are trying to start a business and who aren’t sure whether Harlingen is the right spot or not. We will help you decide by going through that process, and hopefully bringing them back, so they can choose Harlingen.”


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