METHUEN -- A proposal that would streamline permitting for new businesses might enable entrepreneurs to start companies in the city in one day.
The initiative, dubbed Startup in a Day, was proposed this week by City Councilors DJ Beauregard and Eunice Zeigler.
"I'm excited about this resolution because it will help us cut red tape," Beauregard said at Tuesday night's council meeting.
He said he had a personal reason for wanting to launch the initiative -- something created by the Small Business Administration under then-President Barack Obama in 2015. He said in 2018 he tried to start a home-based business and learned quickly how difficult it was.
'I went to City Hall and started in city clerk's office," he said. "I submitted an application for a business certificate, then I had to go upstairs to zoning. It took several trips to City Hall to complete the process.
"Then I learned about the Startup in a Day initiative. By joining Startup in a Day, we commit to creating an easy, online tool for entrepreneurs to start a business in 24 hours or less. Small businesses are the engines of our economy. We should make it easier for businesses to start, grow and hire. We can make Methuen one of the easiest places to do business."
City Council Chairman Steve Saba called the initiative "excellent" while noting that other cities and towns in the Merrimack Valley are being extremely aggressive, drawing big developments in Salem, New Hampshire as well as Haverhill, Andover and North Andover.
"We have to be more proactive and competitive," he said, adding that it might be worth considering hiring "mentors" in the Economic and Community Development department to guide entrepreneurs and help them get the permits they need quickly.
"This is a great resolution," he said.
Economic and Community Development Director Bill Buckley agreed, saying the idea is to make the process for starting new companies in Methuen "seamless."
"It's our job to figure out how to make that work," he said, noting that the timing is good because "we are in the market for a new, online permitting system" that would improve the way departments communicate with each other electronically.
"We have an online permitting system but each department has their own, separate system," Buckley said, adding that new businesses have been approved in a day in the past.
"We do it now if someone really needs it," he said, admitting, however, that the process is "not as efficient as it can be, especially now that people are looking at doing different things because of COVID. It's a good initiative to tackle."
Mayor Neil Perry said the city proposed using federal money from the first COVID-19 relief package to purchase software for $138,000 that would have created a unified permitting system, but the state Department of Revenue rejected the idea, saying it was an inappropriate use of federal funds.
But, he said, the city does have several avenues it could take to make the Startup in a Day initiative work.
"We have a couple of different paths," he said. "We will take a look at it. We are in the 21st century now. We trade electronic documents, not paper, so it's something we should be able to do."
The resolution called for the program to be up and running within a year, but an amendment to the proposal, approved by the council and agreed to by the mayor, would have the program up and running in six months.
Beauregard admitted lifting the idea from the Small Business Administration, which no longer pushes the program. But, he said, even though it's not active within the SBA, "as a concept, I think it's fantastic. We are picking up a ball that's been dropped."
He noted that "a lot of it would entail adapting existing (computer) infrastructure."
Since the city is looking to update its website, "this joins a function of the City Clerk's office, with Community Development. If you are working from home and need a zoning variance, it takes two functions from two departments and streamlines it."