A comprehensive online business registration system, called the Vermont Business Portal, was presented to the public Tuesday morning at the Statehouse. The system aims to put the entire process of creating and running a business — as far as state paperwork is concerned — under one umbrella.
The system builds off a series of efforts by state agencies to digitize the creation and collection of paperwork. It will direct business owners to fill out and submit required forms for the Tax and Labor departments and the secretary of state’s office, all online.
“Every year, January through March, the secretary of state’s office used to take up to 10 weeks to process business registrations,” Secretary of State Jim Condos said. “It was a very manual process. People would fill out a paper form and send it to us. The checks and the paper would take literally 10 weeks to process.”
“Now, it’s being done online and almost instantaneously,” he said.
From a link on the secretary of state’s website, users are asked to create one online identity with a name and password linked with their business. The identity is used as a common point of contact with the secretary of state’s office and the Tax and Labor departments. As a security measure, text alerts can be set up to monitor when any of the state’s information on the registered business changes.
The site lets business administrators do myriad tasks, including getting a Vermont tax ID, ending or starting a business, and filing an annual or biennial report with the state. Employees’ wages and hours can be submitted to fulfill Department of Labor requirements.
Gov. Peter Shumlin promoted the system and the agencies involved at the outset of Tuesday’s news conference, leaving with his staff shortly after.
“The vast majority of our employers are small, and everything that we can do to help them set up is good for Vermont,” he said.
The state has seen cost savings after going online and expects that to continue, according to officials. Condos said savings from postage alone will be “considerable.”
Lynette Kemp, the lead tax education specialist at the Tax Department, said that after switching to an online system that has been folded into the new portal, the staff has gone from processing more than 6,600 paper forms — taking more than 550 hours — to 1,652 online forms in 28 hours. Total savings have been just under $10,000.
To create the online portal, the secretary of state’s office contracted with PCC Technology Group, a Connecticut company that specializes in helping to design and program Internet applications for state and local governments. The company has designed similar business registration systems for New Mexico and Connecticut.
In Vermont, previous administrations had tried to create a system like this, Condos said.
“They were limited by the technology,” he said.
As late as 2011, state employees were using an outdated, text-based computer system to organize much of the business information that is now under the auspices of the new portal.
The old system, FoxPro, is a Microsoft-developed system used for managing databases that traces its earliest iterations to 1984. The software is discontinued and has been unsupported by Microsoft since 2007.
The state had hired temporary workers to manually type data into the old system, Condos said, because much of the information that came from the public was on paper. For any payments, people had to send in cash or a check; the new system can be used with a credit card.
Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters plans to work on folding more state entities into the system. A logical addition, Condos said, would be the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. It affects many businesses, specifically in the regulation of weights and measurements, and a lot of the related paperwork could be digitized and used in the system. Everything from standard firewood measurements to making sure scales at a grocery store are working correctly is regulated by the department.
“Wherever a business might have to interact with another state agency, we’ll look at building it in,” Winters said. “We want to look at resources for starting a business in the first place and adding tools that any business could use.”