Madison HeightsOctober 20, 2010
E-Lounge helps self-starters make sense of government
By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer
May 20 session brings transparency to process of starting a business
MADISON HEIGHTS — They hold early morning coffee chats each month to get aspiring entrepreneurs talking.
They shoot videos in which successful self-starters share insights into the challenges of running a business.
Now the folks behind the Entrepreneur Lounge are gathering city officials to address residents who want to know what it takes to launch a company in the city.
The event, which will shed light on government policy as it pertains to business, is a special session of the E-Lounge at Biggby Coffee, 31055 John R, from 8-9 a.m. May 20.
“It’s making the process of starting your own business even simpler,” said Linda Williams, the city’s economic development coordinator. “When you get to the point of looking at commercial or industrial space, you will need to know who the folks are at City Hall, who you would need … to point you in the right direction, to educate you on what steps are needed to open for business.”
Four such figures are Community Development Director James Schafer, City Clerk Marilyn Haley, building official Jack Williams and building inspector Paul Featherston. All will be on hand at the event to field questions.
Linda Williams said that before one buys or leases a property for business, one should do their due diligence to familiarize themselves with city code. A company can’t take flight without following proper procedure.
Whether it’s applying for a business license or certificate of occupancy, starting a dialogue with the city on financial incentives or expanding/renovating an existing structure, gaining special approval for a commercial venture in an industrial zone or addressing building violations to meet city standards, the details to dissect are many.
“Sometimes when you have different departments you need approval for, and you’re a more mom-and-pop business, it’s hard to fully understand the big picture aspect of it,” said Rick Ax, associate broker/commercial real estate agent at Berridge & Morrison. “There are investigations that can be done to see if your kind of business can be done in the city, without spending a lot of money upfront.”
That’s where city-side experts come in to streamline the process.
“Certain types of business do not require a business license, but they require a certificate of occupancy. At that point, you have a conversation with our city clerk,” Williams explained.
“Or maybe it’s the other way around,” she continued. “Maybe it’s something about the history of the building you’re not aware of from just driving by; maybe you need to look up assessing information, pull up certain permits. If you’ve taken an old industrial building, you might want to have a conversation with our building official to know about what violations of city code exist in that building, so you know the investment necessary to bring it up to code and open for business.
“I highly recommend a pre-development meeting to avoid those headaches,” she concluded. “You need to educate yourself on those things.”
As another example, perhaps someone is interested in starting a home-based business. What’s required to be legitimate? According to Williams, home-based commercial ventures in which consumers physically visit the house to buy items are generally not permissible, but some service-based companies, like daycares, are allowed. Furthermore, a daycare doesn’t require a business license, but it does require state approval. The E-Lounge session will explore the fine line in these instances for those interested.
Or perhaps someone is concerned about signage. What’s the maximum square footage of signs allowed in the city? How is it calculated, and where did the rule come from? Where do temporary signs — for time-sensitive events, such as sales and grand openings — come into play?
Whatever the case, the authorities will address the concerns of those trying to make sense of starting a company in Madison Heights.
“Entrepreneurs are an important part of the future of Madison Heights, and we want to make it less overwhelming,” Williams said. “Nobody should come in here and say, ‘How can we beat the system?’ If you follow the steps and do your homework, then it’s so not overwhelming, and you can open your doors earlier, knowing you can plan ahead.”
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