Last year, I helped spearhead an effort with the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce to apply for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s startup in a day competition.

Jackson was named one of 25 U.S. cities to win a $50,000 grant to develop solutions that let entrepreneurs discover and apply for local, state and federal requirements needed to start a business, all in one day

As a city, our aim is to make it easier, faster, and less intimidating for small business owners to navigate, and interact with, their local government.

Over the last year, I worked with a group of students from the Citizen Interaction Design Program at the University of Michigan to explore problems and potential solutions.

We saw the need for a centralized, online platform to streamline business startups. One that will to accelerate entrepreneurs’ access to and understanding of fees, permits and licenses related to starting a business in Jackson.

That’s why were using our competition winnings to partner with the tech firm OpenCounter. OpenCounter builds tools to help cities support local economic development.

There’s two components of what we’ll be building:

  • First: we’ll help entrepreneurs navigate the city’s business registration, licensing, and permitting process with a simple online platform. It asks the right questions, in the right order, so applicants can see the requirements, fees, and processing time that apply to their planned use and location. By making information available across departments, this will help the city coordinate internal workflows, and build better relationships with new business owners.
  • Second: we will help entrepreneurs translate the language of the zoning and planning code into a format that citizens can easily understand. By calculating zoning clearances in a matter of seconds—instead of days— we can help entrepreneurs explore their options so they can find the perfect home for their next company.

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The $50,000 prize will cover the costs for creating the system and monitoring it for three years. We expect it to be up and running this summer.

OpenCounter is one way we are retooling our economic development efforts in the city to support a more vibrant business environment.

Check them out at www.OpenCounter.com and stay tuned as we continue to find ways to make it easier to start a small business in the city.