CONSERVATIVE Party chairman Grant Shapps said Penzance was "on the tipping point" of success or failure as he attended a breakfast meeting in the town.
The MP for Welwyn Hatfield, invited to the town by Derek Thomas, the party's candidate for the St Ives constituency, said he could see the town going "either way" following the recession.
Speaking to party members and business leaders at Hotel Penzance, Mr Shapps, who was in the West Country to launch the Tories' election campaign, described west Cornwall as a "unique part of the world" facing challenges due to geography and limited access from the east.
He promised to help small businesses with the red tape many complained was holding them back.
"I see this town as being on the cusp – almost on a tipping point where it could go one way or the other," he said. "You're a completely unique part of the world."
Penzance Chamber of Commerce chairman Dick Cliffe asked what the Government was doing to address prohibitively high business rates that were preventing the occupancy of larger shops on the high street.
"People often say business rates have gone up," replied Mr Shapps, "but they haven't risen at all above inflation for the past few years."
He said the coalition Government had introduced rate relief for small businesses as well as providing an opportunity for those in larger premises to defer payment of rate increases. "As a government, we do need to think very carefully about how we can go further to help retail," he said.
On parking, Marcus Wilkinson, owner of Penzance's largest and oldest town centre store, Alfred Smith and Sons, suggested a levy on out-of-town store parking, to be used to offset town centre rates. Mr Shapps said he favoured "activist" planning permissions that would outline such plans as part of the agreement but said the Government was not in a position to force private companies to charge for parking.
He criticised councils that used parking charges as a "cash cow" but said free parking was not the answer to every high street's problems and the towns themselves should be finding ways to attract customers.
Tim Dwelly, who is setting up Penzance's Work Hub, businessman Stuart Hakes and former Newlyn fish auctioneer Robin Turner all raised questions about the bureaucracy surrounding small businesses and Mr Shapps promised to instigate a "red tape investigation".