HAVERHILL — In one of his last acts as a city councilor state Rep. Andy Vargas wants to help make it easier for businesses to get a start in the city.
Long an advocate for fostering a more robust business community, Vargas is helping launch the Haverhill Business Portal, a website designed to make starting a business in the city easier than ever before. On Tuesday night, in his last appearance before handing off his seat to Councilor Michael McGonagle, who finished 10th in the council's fall election, Vargas will unveil the project.
Through the portal, would-be entrepreneurs will be able to get to know city department heads through videos produced by Haverhill Community Television, will receive information for financing, business development, workforce development, licensing and permitting.
During his lone term on the council, the 24-year old Vargas sought to eliminate red tape for people looking to open small businesses in the city, specifically in its downtown. In August 2016, he asked Mayor James Fiorentini to adopt an early concept for the Haverhill Business Portal called "Startup in a Day" when he was working as a senior marketing manager for a Lowell-based startup, Entrepreneurship for All.
The goal of "Startup in a Day" was to do just that — to help a would-be businessperson get their ducks in a row with city permitting and licensing.
"Part of the challenge for folks interested in starting a business or bringing their business to Haverhill is not knowing where to start or who to talk to,” said Vargas Monday. “It’s exciting to see this initiative come to fruition."
Along with Council President John Michitson, Vargas has sought more initiatives to foster the growth of startup and scale-up companies in the city, teaming with UMass Lowell's new Innovation Hub at Harbor Place and bringing in outside entrepreneurs and business leaders to help the council brainstorm ways to help Haverhill's private sector flourish.
In addition to shining a light on the city's existing businesses and unique assets — affordable real estate, two expanding institutions of higher learning in Northern Essex Community College and UMass Lowell's satellite campus — the business portal will also provide prospective city business people with a list of Haverhill residents to contact who can serve as mentors.
To get the Haverhill Business Portal off the ground, Vargas teamed up with other players in city government, most notably Economic Development and Planning Director William Pillsbury and his assistant director, Nate Robertson, Beverly Donovan of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, MassDevelopment's Noah Koretz, and Haverhill Community Television.
"The Haverhill Business Portal is a step in the right direction towards utilizing tech to show all that Haverhill has to offer," said Vargas.
On Monday, Robertson spoke about the process for getting the site up and running and about where he hopes to take it in the future.
Robertson, 28, took over leading the business portal three months ago, and he anticipates it serving as a better organized site than what is typically found with municipal websites.
While City Hall can be a daunting place for a small businessperson just getting his or her feet wet, Robertson said the portal will also benefit the owners and operators of larger businesses by helping them connect with workforce development programs and other resources.
"I talk to a lot of businesses and do a fair amount of recruiting other businesses," said Robertson. "People will ask what they need to do to file a site plan, how to navigate City Hall. (The business portal) is borne out of convenience to business owners and people in the city.
"It will give us a sleeker, more professional web presence," he added. "Some municipal sites can be cringe-worthy, they're not mobile-friendly. This will help the city with making a first impression."
Follow Peter Francis on Twitter @PeterMFrancis