The Secretary of the State has unveiled a new online tool for businesses to help them get off the ground.
According to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the web resource has a very simple aim. "If you were a small business person who just wanted to start your own business for the first time," she said, "where would you start, and how would you do it?"
That question prompts thousands of phone calls to her office. But given the welter of different state departments a new business must interact with, it doesn't have a simple answer.
"We start you off," Merrill said, "by pointing out that if you want to start a business, it needs to be a unique name. Let's say we want to be 'Denise Merrill's Bakery.'" Merrill took to her laptop to show me just how the tool works. "Then you come to the next page, and it says: select your business type."
It begins in-house, helping businesses to complete the registration they must make with the Secretary of the State. It's a form, incidentally, that still can't be completed online; it must be printed and mailed in.
From there, in a series of steps, the site points users to the Department of Revenue Services for tax registration; to Consumer Protection and DEEP for licenses and permits; the Department of Labor for employee information; and then to a variety of resources for business development and financial help.
Merrill said, "This won't do everything for people, but I think it'll go a long way to at least getting them started, and making them feel more comfortable with the government systems that oversee all this."
The idea of a comprehensive, one-stop business portal was one of the first ideas Merrill brought to her job, when she was elected back in 2010. But it's taken this long to get even a scaled back version underway. "It's been very slow going," Merrill said, "much more so than I would have imagined at the time."
Part of the reason is the state's famously antiquated IT capacities, but there's another issue. "It is still a very, as they say, siloed system," Merrill said. Each agency has its own protocols, its own concerns about privacy, for example. Some of that has been very difficult to manage, so they're not that anxious to start working with each other, in a way."
While the business startup tool tries to provide a route map through state government for a business's early days, the idea of a more comprehensive business portal is still alive. The Department of Economic and Community Development hopes to launch that soon, coordinating and standardizing registration systems for businesses across all of state government, and finally getting the bureaucrats to talk to each other.