State spending $9M on one-stop business portal

The first step in starting a new business is having a big idea.

Then comes the paperwork.

A new state project hopes to ease those bureaucratic burdens for Indiana businesses. 

The Secretary of State’s office is getting ready to launch an online portal called Business OneStop, which it says will streamline businesses' interactions with state government. Instead of having to visit multiple agencies, businesses will go to just one website to register their companies, submit required annual reporting, learn about new laws and even pay their taxes.

The $9 million project is being built with small business owners in mind—especially first-timers and those with small staffs.

“We want it to be less confusing, less stressful and have less delays,” said Secretary of State Connie Lawson. “Small businesses who are doing it all themselves will see a large benefit.”

Christy Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce in Evansville, said that’s the group that needs the most help.

“They may have never had to navigate these waterways before,” Gillenwater said. “For many, it feels daunting and overwhelming.”

The state hopes the system, which is being built by Connecticut-based PCC Technology Group, reduces inefficiencies between state agencies and increases compliance—from paying taxes and fees on time to submitting paperwork to the right place.

The idea has been brewing for a while. The Indiana legislature in 2011 charged the Secretary of State’s Office under then-Secretary Charlie White with completing the project. The state issued a request for proposals in late 2013.

Gov. Mike Pence requested $9.1 million to fund the project during the recent budget-making session of the Indiana General Assembly. The Secretary of State’s Office also raised the fees charged to the 13 percent of business owners that still submit paper filings the old-fashioned way.

The success of the system hinges on state agencies cooperating well, Lawson said. The Department of Workforce Development and the Department of Revenue will be integrated into the system in late 2016. Lawson said she also has received interest from the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency.

“How often do you get state agencies that are talking to each other and understand each other’s business processes and are willing to link their systems together?” Lawson said.

Bob Kasprzak, a South Bend-based district director with the business mentoring organization SCORE, said he hopes the new system results in an easier process for hopeful business owners.

He calls them “dreamers” for a reason. When they first solicit Kasprzak’s help, they’re excited—and maybe a little naïve. He said the state’s 400 SCORE volunteers see their job as helping someone through the process without getting discouraged when reality sets in.

“When we help them define their idea and start to write a business plan and think about licensing issues and funding avenues that are available, that’s when they get a little bit overwhelmed by all these state agencies,” Kasprzak said. "Any assistance that they bring to that equation is going to be appreciated.”

The site will act as a “front door” for businesses as they navigate new state agencies, said Erik Scheub, the ombudsman for Indiana’s Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

“We know things can get murky, especially when it gets into government policy and procedures,” Scheub said. “The state of Indiana wants to make that as accessible for entrepreneurs as possible."

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