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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

City Launches One-Stop ‘Business Solutions’ Website

Last year, the Los Angeles Chamber held an event called Access City Hall to allow the business community access to city officials. Local business leaders Brendan Huffman and Tracy Rafter remember it well, particularly the moment in which an audience member asked city officials why Los Angeles didn’t have a website specifically to address business needs. Rafter, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, remembers the man saying that it took him hours to track down the business-related information on the Web that he needed, despite the fact that he has two master’s degrees. “How come the city can’t have a simple website with all of the information you need to start a business,” Huffman, the head of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association, remembers the man asking. “I think the mayor was inspired by that question.” That’s because Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently announced the launch of Los Angeles Business Solutions, the city’s new site designed to be a one-stop shop for new and existing business owners. Evidently, the mayor took the man’s question to heart. The new site offers information on contracting, hiring, financing, real estate development, business incentives and partnerships, taxes and more. “I like it,” Huffman said of the site. “I think this will be a very useful website. It’s easy to navigate. It doesn’t have too much information. But it has links to good information. I especially like its interactive map, so you can see if your business is in an enterprise zone, an empowerment zone or a CRA zone. I think that could be helpful with filing taxes, just simple information.” Rafter was also complimentary of the new site. “It’s a tremendous step in the right direction,” she said. “The city should continue to road test it and get it out there.” The site will help businesses find “real world answers,” Rafter said, and with much less effort than in the past, when one had to contact different city departments to obtain relevant business information. It didn’t help that the information the departments disseminated was written in “government-ese,” she said. By streamlining services via the Web and reducing the steps in the permitting process, the city is giving local businesses a huge boost. The site has made processes much easier for business, Huffman feels, as does Bruce Ackerman, head of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. “They did a really good job,” Ackerman said. “It’s very intuitive. It’s pretty well laid out. .. I think it makes a really, really strong online tool for businesses.” Ackerman said that the alliance will have a link to Los Angeles Business Solutions on its website. He is most impressed with the information the site has provided on contracting, calling that feature “probably the strongest.” Ackerman did offer one caveat, however. “I think that it’s going to be as good as how they promote the website,” he said. “If they’re not planning on promoting it, I think that won’t serve them well. They need to really promote this and get it out there. If you’re trying to find something online, and you don’t know how to find it, and nobody knows where it is or how to get there, it’s useless. The key is how they can get it integrated.” Huffman said that, while the site doesn’t have all of the information a business needs, it’s pretty comprehensive. “If you go to other large cities, they have similar Web sites with similar information,” he said. “Obviously, if you’re a larger employer, you’re going to need more than this website, but you’re going to give anyone [who’s starting a business] the information they need to keep their business up and running.” With the creation of this site, the City of Los Angeles is now on par with other large cities in terms of how it is getting information out to residents, Huffman continued. People wanted this site, “so you could have a lot of questions answered without waiting on hold or by calling a variety of phone numbers,” Huffman said. Now, local business owners don’t have to endure such inconvenience. While Huffman and Ackerman mostly praised the site, Rafter was critical of its URL name: business.lacity.org. She felt that the URL name should have mirrored the website name to make it easier to find. As for her four-month old organization, Los Angeles County Business Federation, billed as a “grassroots alliance of businesses,” Rafter is pleased. The federation now counts 53 associations and 92,000 businesses as members. “We continue to facilitate and bring these types of issues to light and support the business community and government working together to make our region more prosperous and spur its economy on, so we can create more jobs,” she said. “We’re happy to work with the mayor and his team.”

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