It flew under the radar for the most part, but a significant piece of legislation may make Arkansas a much easier place to start or run a business.
Act 1190, co-sponsored by Speaker Jeremy Gillam and Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, allows the Secretary of State’s office to create a portal for businesses to submit licenses, permits and applications through one interface.
Typically, a business must file organizational paperwork at the Secretary of State’s office, such as articles of incorporation. Then, a business must register for a sales tax permit with the Department of Finance and Administration. Finally, that company may have to find the physical address of a board or commission to receive a license for the type of work it will perform.
In the end, the tasks can be cumbersome and a deterrent for a startup or existing business. Secretary of State Mark Martin hopes to change that. Martin says as an engineer, he’s always been interested in improving processes and finding ways to innovate, but comments on the campaign trail pushed this recent initiative.
“(T)he real impetus behind this legislation started when I traveled across the state campaigning for my first term as Secretary of State,” he said. “One thing I constantly heard from business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs was: How can you make starting and running a business in Arkansas more efficient and modern?”
The Secretary of State’s office has permission to use cash funds from the office to underwrite the costs of the new portal. Act 1190 also allows Martin to “apply for and accept a gift, donation, bequest, grant, or other source of money to carry out” the new law. A price tag for the total scope of the project has yet to be determined.
Martin said he started toward the goal of one-stop business shopping with a web site he launched in his first term – DreamItDoItArkansas.com. The site provides new business owners answers to basic questions on how to navigate state government based on where you’ll locate your business, what type of business structure you organize, and how many employees you plan to have.
From there, an email is sent to users to steer them to some of the local, state, and federal entities with which they’ll have to complete paperwork. Martin says the Act 1190 will allow some – and perhaps eventually all – of this state paperwork to be completed without having to travel to multiple sites or locations.
“With the creation of the online business portal, businesses in Arkansas will have the opportunity to interact with state government in a way they never have before,” said Martin.
Martin envisions hiring an outside group to create the portal – there are many vendors who have developed expertise in government interfaces – and it could take two years to get this project to activation stage. When it’s up and running though, he sees business owners creating an account in one place and handling much of their business online through an ID number.
“Once their business is started, and this applies to existing business who want to start an account too, they will be given a unique identification number that will be used by all state agencies to identify them. This removes the hassle of trying to remember or manage all the different ways various agencies identify and classify businesses, and for multiple business owners, this will really simplify things,” Martin said.
Martin sees the portal as being a big advantage to help Arkansas’ burgeoning startup scene.
“While I think all businesses in Arkansas will benefit from a more modern and efficient mode of interacting with state government, I can’t help but see the Innovation Hub and growing focus on tech startups really embrace this,” he said, noting that the year DreamItDoItArkansas.com launched there were more new businesses created through his office than any previous year.
“I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When we make it easier to start and manage business, entrepreneurship can flourish, and that benefits all Arkansans,” he said.