With all due respect to the employees of D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, wouldn’t it be nice to launch a business in the District without ever having to come in contact with them?
Now, city entrepreneurs, you can. At least some of you.
The District on Monday went live with its D.C. Business Center, a one-stop online portal through which most city businesses, existing and prospective, can apply for a basic business license, renew a license, and become certified as a certified business enterprise. The system also allows users to look up business and professional licenses, corporate registrations and certified business enterprises by license number or business name.
Two years and $4 million in the making, the portal was designed by D.C.-based Limbic Systems to be TurboTax-like. At its core is a licensing wizard: After answering the wizard’s series of questions, it tells the applicant what licenses are needed and what supporting documents are required by DCRA, the steps to follow and the order they must be completed.
Documents and payment can be submitted electronically.
“We want customers to have the best experience possible,” said DCRA spokesman Matt Orlins. “What we hear from businesses constantly is that they’d rather do it online.”
There are roughly 56,000 active registered businesses in the District, whose dealings with the city’s leading regulatory and licensing agency have not always been pleasant. The portal release comes on the heels of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s weeklong visit with DCRA, a department city leaders believe “can operate more efficiently.”
For now, the new system focuses on the basic business licenses most frequently issued by DCRA — contractors, restaurants, general businesses, single-family rentals, and so on. It is not yet designed to be used for occupational and professional licenses such as CPAs, lawyers and doctors, or for vending and special event licenses, or for highly specialized BBLs such as bowling alleys, candy manufacturing, driving schools and the horse drawn carriage trade.
And a visit to DCRA’s headquarters in Southwest, a call to its customer service center, or a stop by any number of other agencies may still be needed to obtain a certificate of occupancy, or a corporate registration, or tax registration, or a health-related license or a building permit. The ultimate goal for the portal is to “include all District agencies that issue licenses, permits, or certifications; or perform inspections,” per DCRA. It is unknown what the next phase will include, or when it will be released.
“We don’t want to over promise,” Orlins said, “but we do think it’s a very significant release.”
*Michael Neibauer covers economic development, chambers of commerce, transportation and politics for the Washington Business Journal*