How OpenCounter’s Business Portal Can Help Fuel Economic Development in Your City

More job opportunities. Increased tax revenues. Greater innovation. There are countless ways small businesses contribute to the economic development of their communities. In fact, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy reports that small businesses account for 44 percent of economic activity in the U.S.

It’s critical that local governments find forward-thinking ways to drive economic growth in their communities and help everyone get back to where we were before 2020. That means not only providing greater incentives for entrepreneurs to set up shop in their areas, but also making it much easier for them to do just that.

The permit discovery process in most cities still requires a tremendous amount of paperwork and rounds of back-and-forth between municipal staff and applicants to determine zoning clearances, permitting requirements, associated fees, and more. With all the complexity involved, it’s easy to see why applicants become easily overwhelmed and why City Hall staff spend thousands or even tens of thousands of hours every year fielding the same batch of inquiries about the permitting process.

That’s where OpenCounter’s Business Portal can help take your city’s permitting operations to the next level. Not only does our solution demystify permit discovery for existing and potential business owners, it greatly improves visibility and collaboration across all of the departments involved in permitting.

Here are six ways our Business Portal can fuel business growth and economic development in your area.

Intelligent Land Use Search

Gif image of OpenCounter's Business Portal in use

What’s the land use code for a fitness center in your city? How about the occupancy classification? Or the NAICS code? Is that considered an “indoor recreation establishment” or a “personal services business”? These are the vital questions that can overwhelm applicants from the very beginning of the permit discovery process, resulting in multiple inquiries to city staff or worse — the applicant heading off down the wrong path.

With our Business Portal, this critical first step of the permit discovery process couldn’t be easier. Our use code search functionality allows applicants to enter natural language terms — like “fitness center,” “gym,” or “yoga studio” — and quickly scan a list of relevant use codes. And if those results don’t seem relevant to the applicant, they can browse your city’s comprehensive list of use codes to select the best option.

Intuitive Zoning Maps

Gif image of OpenCounter's Intuitive Zoning Maps

Before any discussion of permits can begin, applicants need to know exactly where their business is permitted. So the second step in OpenCounter’s Business Portal is determining a zoning clearance — a process that can take days or weeks and often includes a lot of back-and-forth between the applicant and city staff.

But with OpenCounter, we reduce that process to less than 60 seconds. With our interactive, intuitive zoning maps, someone looking to open a bookstore will quickly see where in their city that type of establishment is either permitted by right, conditionally allowable, or prohibited.

Rest assured that no zoning map is too complex for OpenCounter. So if your city has a historic district that requires additional project considerations, or incentive zones in which local grants or tax credits are in place to spur business development, we’ll overlay those zones so that applicants see that important information right in the portal.

Adaptive Permit Scoping

Gif image of OpenCounter's Adaptive Permit Scoping

If an applicant is looking to open a nail salon that will only require remodeling the interior of an existing space, they shouldn’t have to answer dozens of questions geared toward a ground-up construction project. That’s why we’ve built adaptive permit scoping into OpenCounter’s Business Portal.

As the parameters of a project become more complex, additional nested questions will appear in the portal to quickly surface all permit requirements. We’ll also put location data to use to trigger your city’s specific permit requirements for that zone, district, or parcel — such as environmental overlays, impact fees, or fire department reviews. With adaptive permit scoping, our Business Portal ensures applicants will never have to wade through a river of questions that have nothing to do with their specific business.

Real-time Fee Calculations

Gif image of OpenCounter's Real-time Fee Calculations

We’re the only player in the market to take the guesswork out of permit fees by calculating each permit’s fee in real time as new project details are entered. Applicants answer questions in the left pane and instantly see fee totals calculated in the right pane. Plus, we’ve equipped our Business Portal to run fee estimations across multiple departments and data sets, so applicants won’t be hit with sticker shock later in the process by fees they didn’t anticipate.

Our ability to run real-time fee calculations also powers admin reporting, which offers your teams and local policymakers deep insights into the effects of existing regulations on business development in your city. With OpenCounter’s reporting capabilities, you can see where the actual pain points are for businesses in your area.

Clear Paths Forward for Applicants and Staff

Once the permit discovery process is complete and applicants know what they need and how much it will cost, what’s next? OpenCounter answers those questions and more by outlining all of the departments the applicant will need to work with for each permit and the next steps for obtaining those permits, whether it’s applying online or in person.

Our Business Portal also takes the pain out of the approval process for municipal teams. We know every department can have its own office hours, approval routing processes, and systems of record, which is why OpenCounter provides one consolidated interface that takes into account every department’s requirements, rather than forcing everyone to align on one back-end system of record.

Plus, our solution brings all of the departments involved in permitting together to seamlessly keep the cascade of approvals moving — from Planning and Development Services to the Treasury, Fire Department, and beyond.

Localization in Dozens of Languages

Everyone in your community, regardless of their language, should have an equal opportunity to contribute to your city’s economic engine. That’s why our Business Portal — and all of our other products — can be fully translated into 36 languages, from Spanish to Chinese to Norwegian and Vietnamese.

OpenCounter: Your Permit Discovery Partner

OpenCounter has become the virtual permitting counter for cities and counties across the country — from San Diego to Miami and from Detroit to Fort Worth. That’s because our suite of portals makes it easy for everyone to understand zoning requirements, which permits they need, how much each of them costs, and how to apply.

Plus, our products are backed by a team of public sector experts — people with deep knowledge of all things zoning, permitting, and licensing, who partner with our clients to guarantee the best outcomes for each and every engagement. We know how complex these processes are, the headaches and inefficiencies they cause for your team, and how exactly to ease those burdens.

We don’t just offer a great product — we deliver great service, too.

See for yourself how OpenCounter can modernize your zoning, permitting, and licensing systems, leading to greater efficiency and happier citizens. Get in touch and schedule a discovery session with us today.