Editor’s note: This commentary is by Matt Birong, the chef/owner of 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes who is a board member of Main Street Alliance of Vermont.
Tax Day — and often the week that leads up to it — can be a point of stress and uncertainty for many as they scramble to pull together document after document, chasing down one person for one filling and another person for another.
As a small business owner in Vermont, I do what I do because I care about the product I produce, the community I share my businesses with, and the people I employ. But the reality of running a small business in Vermont means having to navigate the often convoluted permitting and tax-filing processes — and time spent doing that means time I’m not investing back in community and in my café.
You will read it in every commentary I write and almost every conversation you have with me on this topic, but it can’t be said enough: Vermont is a small business state. Ninety percent of businesses in Vermont have fewer than 20 employees and 98.5 percent of businesses in Vermont have fewer than 100 employees. Small businesses are at the core of Vermont’s communities, yet it can be incredibly difficult to manage all that comes with running a small business.
This legislative session, the Legislature is considering a bill (S.85) that aims to simplify businesses interactions with the state. Whether that’s starting a business or maintaining business operations, paying taxes, registration fees, or navigating permitting processes, S.85 would set forward a trajectory that would create a simple portal for small businesses to interact with the state into a single online portal.
Anyone who operates a business at my scale will tell you that you have to “wear a lot of hats.” Some days you’re a plumber, a carpenter, a novice marketing director, and on other days, a big brother or sister to a staff member who need guidance.
Medium and large businesses often have HR departments, accountants, and lawyers who can help them deal with all the paperwork and business matters, but that is not a luxury that small, Main Street businesses can afford. Having a small businesses portal that can help streamline interaction with a handful of state offices would be an amazing support and time-management tool. Bottom line, this would afford us more time to work with our staff and community.
A small businesses portal is not an idea that is unique to Vermont. States such as Massachusetts and Indiana have already created sites that make it clear and simple to see what is needed to start and run a small business in that state. The Massachusetts site allows user to enter in what type of business they want to start and walks them through the process of the forms that need to be filled and the permits needed to be obtained.
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As the Legislature looks to make Vermont a state that works better for all businesses, not just our largest employers, concepts like this need to be embraced and driven forward. We have a proud culture of innovation a creative business cultivation that makes this Vermont unique.
These newer, smaller employers are the one who will be the drivers of this state’s economy but we must create an environment that fosters growth. By passing S.85 and working to implement the goals laid out in the bill, Vermont will continue to foster a strong small business economy.