Small business owners, entrepreneurs and innovators can now navigate the City of Detroit’s permitting process more easily, thanks to a series of advancements underway through a partnership between the City of Detroit’s Building Safety, Engineering & Environmental Department (BSEED) and the Quicken Loans Community Fund.
The upgrades, which address all facets of the permitting process, were driven by the significant influx of new businesses and construction emerging in Detroit. Since January 2015, BSEED has issued more than 22,000 business licenses and 3,000 commercial building permits. This resurgence in new investment in Detroit has created a high volume of applicants interacting with BSEED, many of whom have never been through the permitting process with City government.
The Quicken Loans Community Fund and BSEED collaborated on three major areas: wayfinding, simplifying forms, and improving the online experience.
Wayfinding: BSEED and the Quicken Loans Community Fund worked alongside Pophouse to develop an attractive, intuitive design for the BSEED offices. The changes can be seen immediately when business owners, residents and contractors step off the elevators onto the 4th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, where BSEED is located. Visitors are greeted with vibrant, color-coded “wayfinding” signage and directional pathways painted onto the floor to guide them to the right counter or office, whether that is property maintenance, plan review, construction inspection, licensing & permits or others.
Simplified forms: In addition to designing the wayfinding signage, the Quicken Loans Community Fund also developed an easy-to-follow, step-by-step Quick Start Permitting Guide to help small business owners understand the various stages of the process leading up to their opening. The guide also lets them know which of the steps can be completed online and which ones need to be done in-person.
During the development of this guide, we were able to significantly simplify some existing forms and eliminate redundancy. For example, business owners now only need to input their address 3 times, instead of 70 times.
Online: Finally, the City of Detroit has implemented Accela Civic Platform, which the City has branded as “eLAPS” (Electronic Licenses and Permits System). eLAPs is an online system that manages all of BSEED’s occupational licensing, business licensing and permits issuance activities, as well as supporting rental and vacant property registrations and property inspections. As part of the implementation, the department has equipped its inspectors with mobile devices, allowing them to spend more time in the field and allowing inspection results to be received more quickly.
To simplify and enhance the use of this system, the city has procured software from Open Counter, a technology company specializing in the creation of portals that help local government “streamline service delivery.” Open Counter’s platform walks customers through the permitting process step by step, including estimating permit fees and aiding the online submission of forms and documents. Whether customers choose to visit the department or conduct their business online, OpenCounter helps them “get ready” by letting them know what to expect.
“Small business owners and entrepreneurs are the cornerstone of Detroit. The entire city rises together through their shared success,” said Laura Grannemann, Vice President of the Quicken Loans Community Fund. “One of our passions is looking for ways to remove as many obstacles as possible for these innovators. We are thankful the City shares our values and vision in drastically simplifying the process of taking innovation to action.”