By ANNE WALLACE ALLEN
A committee that studied ways of streamlining Vermont’s online business registration process — which could cost upwards of $10 million — will pass its recommendations on to the Legislature on Dec. 15.
While the secretary of state’s office has an online portal in place now for business owners to use, it was created in 2013 and is limited, Secretary of State Jim Condos said.
“It is very basic, but it reduces the amount of time that people have to spend going from one website to another” when starting a business, Condos said.
The committee hopes to submit recommendations to the Legislature for a new system that would integrate permitting and other regulation into a one-stop system that would also enable one registration payment instead of separate payments to multiple departments. The secretary of state and the committee have been talking with the Department of Taxes and the Department of Labor on plans for the portal.
“The cost is all over the place, from $5 million to $10 million; it could be more than that,” Condos said of current estimates for the system.
The Legislature formed the committee consisting of Condos and the secretaries of commerce and digital services.
The news conference to discuss the issue was held at Sivan Cotel’s Burlington restaurant, Stonecutter Spirits Highball Social. Cotel also owns a distillery in Middlebury. His Burlington bar and restaurant opened this fall. Together, his businesses employ 26 people.
He commented on the current state portal for businesses.
“It only works for certain functions,” Cotel said. “To see agencies work together to expand those offerings is a tremendous opportunity.”
Cotel favors a more efficient system of permitting for business owners.
“We had a lot of permitting problems when we were working on the Burlington location last year,” Cotel said. “We had various issues with the state and how the various departments don’t necessarily talk well with each other. A major issue was our actual liquor permits for this space. The requirements for the permits seemed to change over time.”
Jeff Couture, the executive director of the Vermont Technology Alliance, testified last March to lawmakers that he’d often heard frustration or confusion from his members who used the state system. Couture recommended that the committee study what other states do and adopt best practices.
The committee’s proposal to the Legislature will include a project scope, timeline, roadmap, and cost projections, Condos’ office said.
“It’s a huge project,” said Chris Winters, the deputy secretary of state. “You’re pulling in every state agency that a business might touch in some way. There are many, many agencies, many different systems.”