St. Petersburg invests in portal to make it easier to start a business

OpenCounter aims to streamline process
Posted at 5:32 PM, Feb 13, 2017

Setting up your own business could be the best thing for your future but it can be hard to know where to start. Now, St. Petersburg is making it easier and it could impact your wallet.

It's a dessert bar with a less than sweet start. Swah-Rey owner Leslie Anne Ciccone was losing $4,000 every month. Her shop, three months behind on its original grand opening. No customer's allowed because she was struggling to complete St.Pete's permitting process.

"Yeah, I had a moment where I was getting quite paranoid and I thought we wouldn't get to open," she said.

Between permit requirements, leasing in the right zoning area and following building codes it gets complicated. City leaders tell ABC Action News this is the number one complaint from entrepreneurs. That's why today, St. Pete launches Open Counter, a tool designed to cut through the mess.

"Time is money for business owners so what we want to do is help them get through the process faster," said Jessica Eilerman, small business liaison for the city.

Doing it the traditional way often meant weeks of paperwork and going back and forth with the city but in using Open Counter everything you need is going to be in one spot and city leaders say that could mean opening your business in just a fraction of the time.

The digital platform is like a customized road-map.  It shows zoning areas, permit requirements and even estimated costs. It could mean more business, money and jobs in St. Pete.

"That adds to the fabric of the community overall. It helps build strong neighborhoods and it has a huge economic impact," said Eilerman. Plus, easing the city's construction services and permitting review services department that's already swamped with the volume of permitting requests.

Meanwhile, Ciccone is planning to open another Swah-Rey. This time, hoping the permitting process will come out sweet.