Permitting

Improving the basics of business regulation in New York City

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New York City’s multiyear Business Customer Service Initiative helped city officials identify, define, and address regulatory challenges affecting small businesses.

Challenge

The Bloomberg administration recognized early on that the city’s regulatory requirements and processes were adversely affecting small business growth. Decades of accretion had created a Byzantine regulatory regime that made compliance arduous and in some cases impossible to achieve.

Solution

The City launched a Business Customer Service Initiative to simplify and expedite businesses’ interactions with city government. Informed by interviews, site visits, and feedback collected throughout New York City, this initiative aimed to save business owners’ time, reduce their confusion, and decrease their effort, all while better managing risk for the city.

Timeline

2009

  • City Council and Mayor Bloomberg establish a Regulatory Review Panel to “review the structure and function of City regulations and their impact on small businesses.”

2010

  • April
    Regulatory Review Panel issues recommendations based on small business owners’ feedback.
  • June
    City Council and Mayor Bloomberg release the Business Owner Bill of Rights, which calls for improved customer service and efficient and accessible city services for businesses.

2012

  • June
    NYC Business Customer Service Initiative launches, led by new Chief Business Operations Officer.
    City seeks business owner feedback through an online survey, ongoing interviews, and regular visits to small businesses.
  • October
    Business Customer Service Initiative, which has narrowed its focus to solutions that would make the biggest difference, issues the first of a series of regular 90-day progress reports detailing changes to date.
  • Autumn
    City promotes and distributes the Business Owner Bill of Rights to area business owners.

2013

  • January
    Department of Finance launches new website to simplify online payments.
  • April
    Mayor Bloomberg signs four bills to reduce regulatory burden on small businesses and improve customer service by inspectors.
    Department of Consumer Affairs conducts 10th annual Business Education Day to raise awareness of how to comply with regulations and avoid fines.
  • May
    City provides a progress update with information on completed and in-progress initiatives, the benefits of each, and a timeline for completion.
  • Autumn
    City revamps its online business portal to include a regulation finder, a series of “Easy Start” guides with info on starting different kinds of businesses in NYC, online payments and license and permit applications, and the ability to check the status of licenses and permits. The city also distributes a two-page guide explaining how to avoid common violations.  The BCSI team also measures reductions in confusion, effort required, and time consumed.

Lessons learned

Focus on solutions that will yield the greatest impact

Prioritizing challenges that, if solved, would have the biggest positive effect allowed the BCSI team to focus its energies and resources. This approach also helped win broader public support and reduced barriers to entrepreneurship for all New Yorkers.

Pay attention to the basics of business regulation

Although the regulatory reform is not the sexiest of topics, it often has a disproportionate effect on small businesses due to their size. In many cases, the biggest challenges are not the regulations themselves but the compliance process. By starting with a simple vision—making it easier for small businesses to be compliant—the BCSI team was able to zero in on needed process and content changes.

Use collaboration to leverage institutional knowledge

Bringing the right people to the table increases the likelihood of smart solutions. The BCSI team worked with the City’s regulators to mitigate the possibility that regulatory changes would increase health, safety, or legal risks. Engaging public servants with deep knowledge of the regulatory regime is critical because individuals can dig into the specifics of the code, define the problems, and help develop better solutions.

Improved regulatory processes can create opportunity

Reducing the regulatory burden helps small businesses, increases compliance and lowers risk, encourages entrepreneurship, and lowers barriers to economic participation for everyone, including new immigrants and those from lower-income communities.