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Small business owners, entrepreneurs and innovators can now navigate the City of Detroit’s permitting process more easily, thanks to a series of advancements underway through a partnership between the City of Detroit’s Building Safety, Engineering & Environmental Department (BSEED) and the Quicken Loans Community Fund.

The upgrades, which address all facets of the permitting process, were driven by the significant influx of new businesses and construction emerging in Detroit. Since January 2015, BSEED has issued more than 22,000 business licenses and 3,000 commercial building permits. This resurgence in new investment in Detroit has created a high volume of applicants interacting with BSEED, many of whom have never been through the permitting process with City government.

“Our mission is to provide services in a way that makes it easy for people who want to improve their property or open a business in Detroit. We are very appreciative of the Quicken Loans Community Fund for the assistance it has provided to make our office and our processes much more customer-friendly,” says BSEED Director David Bell. “We have already received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from new and returning customers alike.”

The Quicken Loans Community Fund works extensively city-wide with Detroit entrepreneurs through the Small Business Murals Project, a partnership with Backstage Capital for its startup accelerator, ongoing sponsorship of Detroit Startup Week, its continued commitment to assisting small business owners, as well as Quicken Loans Detroit Demo Day, an annual entrepreneurship competition for Detroit-based businesses or those looking to move here.

“Small business owners and entrepreneurs are the cornerstone of Detroit. The entire city rises together through their shared success,” says Laura Grannemann, vice president of the Quicken Loans Community Fund. “One of our passions is looking for ways to remove as many obstacles as possible for these innovators. We are thankful the City shares our values and vision in drastically simplifying the process of taking innovation to action.”

Significant changes to wayfinding, forms and the online system were implemented based on public feedback and collaboration between BSEED and the Quicken Loans Community Fund, with additional support provided by Detroit design studio Pophouse, formerly dPOP. Based on extensive public input, the revamp was carefully integrated throughout this year.

“The effort between the Quicken Loans Community Fund and City of Detroit to overhaul the permitting process is going to streamline the experience for all small business owners,” says April Anderson, pastry chef and co-owner of Good Cakes and Bakes, a Quicken Loans Detroit Demo Day winner. “Through the numerous time-saving improvements, innovators and entrepreneurs will be able to spend their time on their passions, not paperwork.”

Here is an overview of the changes:

BSEED and the Quicken Loans Community Fund worked alongside Pophouse to develop an attractive, intuitive design for the BSEED offices. The changes can be seen immediately when business owners, residents and contactors step off the elevators onto the fourth floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, where BSEED is located. Visitors are greeted with vibrant, color-coded “wayfinding” signage and directional pathways painted onto the floor to guide them to the right counter or office, whether that is property maintenance, plan review, construction inspection, licensing and permits, or others.

Simplified Forms
In addition to designing the wayfinding signage, the Quicken Loans Community Fund also developed an easy-to-follow, step-by-step Quick Start Permitting Guide to help small business owners understand the various stages of the process leading up to their opening, from checking the current zoning through permit applications, requesting inspections, obtaining a certificate of occupancy and applying for a business license. The guide also lets them know which of the steps can be completed online and which ones need to be done in-person. Additionally, the Quick Starting Permit Guide lets applicants know what documentation needs to be submitted for each step, the estimated processing time and a contact for each area.

As part of this part of the project, QLCF worked closely with BSEED to redesign several forms, simplify them and reduce the time it takes to complete them. For example, businesses owners will only need to input their address three times, as opposed to more than 70 previously through multiple duplicative forms. The forms are also color-coded to match the wayfinding colors for each area of BSEED.

Forming the centerpiece of BSEED’s new technologies, the City of Detroit has recently implemented Accela Civic Platform, which the City has branded as “eLAPS” (Electronic Licenses and Permits System). eLAPs is an online system that manages all of BSEED’s occupational licensing, business licensing and permits issuance activities, as well as supporting rental and vacant property registrations and property inspections. As part of the implementation, the department has equipped its inspectors with mobile devices, allowing them to spend more time in the field and allowing inspection results to be received more quickly.

eLAPS is already reducing congestion at the office, as customers will not have to travel downtown and park as often in order to conduct business with BSEED. In addition, customers are more empowered in managing their transactions with the department through their online accounts. They also have better information about those transactions, and where they are in the process, without having to call or visit the department. To simplify and enhance the use of this system, the City has procured software from Open Counter, a technology company specializing in the creation of portals that help local government “streamline service delivery.” Open Counter’s platform walks customers through the permitting process step by step, including estimating permit fees and aiding the online submission of forms and documents. Whether customers choose to visit the department or conduct their business online, OpenCounter helps them “get ready” by letting them know what to expect.

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