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Something To Think About: Small Business Government

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Yash Acharya
May 26, 2017


Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to open a small business by visiting just one government office or one website portal to obtain the required licenses, instead of going through several departments?

Here’s why I pose this question:

One of my friends is looking to open a restaurant which serves alcohol and would have a street side café for outdoor seating. This restaurant would cook most of its food onsite but would also sell pre-packaged food items from grocery stores. It would also serve frozen desserts and for special events would offer candlelit seating. My friend plans to offer health insurance to his employees and would also encourage them to ride a bike to work.

Let’s dive into what types of licenses my friend needs to acquire and other actions he must take:

  1. Create an entity with the Internal Revenue Services and obtain and Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  2. Obtain a Certificate of Occupancy and a Gas Usage Authorization Certificate from the Buildings Department
  3. File a grease interceptor information attestation with the Environmental Protection Department
  4. Install portable fire extinguishers and get the Fire Department to perform an inspection of the range hoods
  5. Obtain a food protection certificate, a food establishment permit and a resuscitation equipment permit from the Health Department
  6. Obtain a recycling and waste removal permit from the Sanitation Department
  7. Obtain a milk dealer’s license from the Agriculture Department
  8. Understand and participate in unemployment insurance processes with the Labor Department
  9. Register the business and obtain a sales tax vendor registration with the local Finance Department
  10. Obtain an alcohol dealing license from the Liquor Authority
  11. Obtain a catering and sidewalk café license from the Consumer Affairs Department
  12. Obtain a certificate for use of commercial cryogenic systems used, certificate of fitness to use liquefied petroleum gas, and certificate of fitness to use air compressors from the Fire Department.
  13. Obtain a pest control certificate from the Health Department
  14. Obtain a certificate for parking and sidewalk rules from the Transportation Department
  15. Obtain a certification for the food processing location and a milk processing process certification from the Agriculture Department
  16. Obtain registrations and permits for commercial vehicles from the Motor Vehicles Department
  17. Register as a special occupation tax business with the Federal Alcohol and Tax Bureau

So let’s tally it up: my friend would need to visit 13 departments and obtain at least 20 permits — in a particular order – before opening his restaurant. This does not include finding a location, negotiating the lease, hiring employees, furnishing the restaurant, hiring a chef, advertising, etc. To navigate all of the permits, licensing requirements and applications, my friend has hired an expensive attorney. Seems like there could be a better way.

In my February 2017 article, I had talked about how a government could be consumer friendly. The above process got me thinking. How can governments become “small business” friendly?

Small Business Government

Small businesses contribute to growth in local economies so it’s no surprise notwithstanding the red tape I’ve just described, government agencies have policies that encourage entrepreneurs to start businesses, such as business-card-1015269_640allocating specific building sites for small businesses

What more can be done to encourage small business start-ups? Both government agencies and the private sector have developed effective single point entry systems such as:

  • Integrated Eligibility Systems – There are several examples in state and local government of agencies that have created a “one stop shop” for social services programs. These “integrated eligibility systems” allow residents to apply for various social services programs using a single web-based application form.
  • Complementary Tax SystemsThe widely-used TurboTax® software gives tax filers the ability to navigate complex federal and state tax rules through a single product.

These examples demonstrate that government and private sector entities are leveraging technology and mobile access to navigate complex federal and state laws, rules, policies and requirements to streamline the consumer experience.

Something to think about

Given these examples, let’s go back to my original question: how about a ‘one stop shop’ portal that would give small business entrepreneurs the ability to apply for permits using a workflow assuring permits are obtained in the correct order? This information could be shared seamlessly across various departments and the entrepreneur would be able to view the status of each of the permits on a computer or mobile phone. New York City, in fact, has started an initiative allowing small businesses to apply for specific licenses directly through a website. Other cities have similar initiatives.

Being a technologist, I know this capability is more complex than it sounds. It involves several data sharing agreements, a unified workflow across various departments and a common way of processing applications. However, with the advent of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems for licensing, permitting, housing, etc., I believe governments can and should pursue developing a single point of entry solutions to support, encourage and help grow small businesses.

Something to think about!!

Author:CreativeTechNerdie – Yash Acharya is a director within KPMG LLP’s State and Local Government Practice, with a focus on assisting governments with business transformation initiatives. Thinker, coffee fanatic and government transformation passionist. Yash’ s column shares innovative ideas, thoughts and real world challenges for government, companies and the public to think about where we want to go next. Views expressed are his own.

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