Taking Care of Business: One Form, Many Towns

Nobody likes paperwork. And sometimes, for business owners, the mounds of paperwork can make it feel like cities or towns are trying to make it hard for them--especially if they do business in more than one town, as contractors, caterers, and other so-called "transient businesses" often do. These are businesses that have a central office but have people who work in multiple jurisdictions, and each town requires a business license.

Naturally, cities, towns, and counties don't actually want to make people jump through unnecessary hoops. The Municipal Association of South Carolina has been meeting with a variety of business organizations--the state Chamber of Commerce, local chambers of commerce, the homebuilders' association, realtors associations, the association of CPAs--over the past couple of years to identify some statewide practices that could be put in place in cities to make doing business less cumbersome.

And now, from Abbeville to Woodruff, many towns in the Upstate--and indeed, all over South Carolina--have made a move towards simplifying the process of doing business in their municipalities: standardized business license applications.

"While every city needs to have its own set of zoning and licensing regulations set up to match the individual city's plans and patterns for growth," says Reba Campbell, deputy executive director of MASC, "we identified the complexity of getting business license in multiple jurisdictions as something that could be easily streamlined."

"While using the application is strictly voluntary, we encourage cities to adopt it as a way to reduce the paperwork burden on transient business, thereby making cities more business friendly," adds Scott Slatton, legislative and policy advocate for MASC.

In the Upstate, Greenville, Anderson, and Spartanburg--the three largest cities--have all signed on to use the standard application form, but so have several smaller towns.

While the form is designed for transient businesses, the towns of Abbeville and Clemson, among others, will accept the application for any business in order to make the licensing process even more streamlined and efficient. On the other hand, says Nicole Combs, Business Licensing Officer for the city of Spartanburg, the new form collects more information than Spartanburg's standard form, so it's simpler for businesses operating only within the city to use the old one, and both forms will be used going forward.

MASC has been working on a number of ideas that have been put forth to encourage additional business friendly practices and opportunities. Campbell says, "One we are already working on is a single online location a business can visit to find out the location and contact information about the licensing offices for every city."

The form is available online, but it does need to be printed out and submitted to each town.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina.