City wants to make website a go to place

June 25, 2011
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It could be called a maze map, but the city of Grand Rapids prefers that it be known as a business guide.

Whichever name small business owners or entrepreneurs prefer, the outcome will be the same: a one-stop virtual shop for just about everything they need to know on how to begin a business or expand one.

The city’s new Business Guide can be found online at guide. It offers quick links that lead to the answers of questions such as “Who can provide entrepreneurial resources?” It also provides easy directions on where to find information on inquiries someone might have, such as what fire permits are required and what approvals are needed to put up a sign.

The website made its debut about a month ago. It was prompted by a request from city commissioners and City Manager Greg Sundstrom earlier this year, as part of the transformation effort the city has been undertaking over the past 18 months or so.

“We wanted to improve the availability of information for citizens, entrepreneurs and business owners. Commissioners and the city manager had made mention of it, and they encouraged us to get moving on it. This is our first foray into presenting the information to the public. We will continue to improve on it and make it even more robust in the future,” said Kara Wood, city economic development director.

“As part of the transformation the city is undergoing, we’re trying to make processes that are inherently complex when someone is starting a new business — obtaining permits, redeveloping properties — simplified for the public,” said Lou Canfield, coordinator of the city’s Development Center at 1140 Monroe Ave. NW.

“We want to present a face that says, ‘Here’s what you need to do.’ And once someone does that, they will be good to go. We want to take the research and the uncertainty out of figuring out what someone needs to do to accomplish their goal,” he said.

Wood said the business guide will contain more detail in the coming months. As an example, the site offers information on what the Michigan Small Business & Technology Center does. Down the road, Wood said links will be added that could help someone with their business plan and cash-flow analysis, plus let them know of any upcoming training sessions.

“We could drill down even further and give more detailed information, but that will mean more research and upkeep of the website, too,” she said.

Canfield said it’s primarily his responsibility to maintain and manage the user-friendly site. But a variety of city departments are responsible for getting him the latest information, so it’s fair to write that the website is a holistic city project. “Part of making things simpler for the public is coordinating the work on our side. I can also add that we’re in the process of rolling out a set of permit requirements the city has and other approvals,” he said.

Canfield said his goal this year is to add online applications that can be completed and paid for online. “Tying that into this business guide will be powerful.”

The site also will contain information about the retail incubator the Downtown Development Authority is putting together. Board members are expected to finalize that incentive soon.

“As soon as that program is ready to go, we’ll have that resource with contact information,” said Wood.

Wood said she hopes the site becomes a worthwhile and time-saving tool that helps people start a new business or expand a current one. “We hope it basically becomes a go-to place for contact information.”

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