By Jim Martin, SCORE Santa Cruz
Given the breadth of federal support for small businesses, one might expect the state of California to minimize its offerings. Instead, the state has a strong support package in place. The best place to start is the California Business Portal, established for the purpose of easy entry into a broad spectrum of support. Reached at http://businessportal.ca.gov/, the business portal offers entry into four primary areas of information: business assistance; incentives; registration and permits; and workforce. Each has pull-down menus that lead to various state (and many federal) organizations offering aid to entrepreneurs.
The Business Assistance menu breaks down into starting a business; relocating or expanding; financing; international trade and investing; and emergency preparedness. Where the federal government offers programs for small businesses, it appears that the policy of the state is not to replicate those offerings, but rather to offer supplemental support tailored to unique California concerns.
The Incentives menu takes users to a page full of financial support from the California Competes Tax Credit (for firms coming to, staying in or expanding in the state) and New Employment Tax Credits (for companies adding full-time employees in certain geographical areas) to a number of incentives offered to particular industries. There is also an Employment Training Panel whose purpose is to provide funding for training to upgrade the skills of employees. Details can be obtained through the Business Portal. It is worth noting that 25% of the funds for the California Competes Tax Credit are set aside for small businesses.
The Registration and Permits section serves several functions. It actually operates through a separate site, http://www.calgold.ca.gov/. The website has a tool that allows one to enter their business type along with the city and county within which they will set up. The tool then generates a list of all permits required for a business to operate. The emphasis is on making it easy (or at least easier, given the complexity of U.S. and state codes) for a business to be compliant. There are also links to the California Regulatory Notice Register. This site provides a regulatory impact analysis on proposed regulations which are expected to have an impact of $50-million or more. It also provides a vehicle for commentary from the business community.
The Workforce menu provides information on hiring incentives, training employees, employer regulations, workers’ compensation, employee wage and hour laws, employee safety and health, and the Affordable Care Act. The last offers a link to the IRS ACA website, but it also connects to several California programs. For example, businesses with fewer than fifty employees can use SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program), which is part of Covered California, to obtain employee health care. Those with fewer than 25 employees may qualify for a Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. The Employee Safety and Health submenu provides a link to Cal/OSHA, which provides free voluntary assistance to small businesses to help them with health or safety issues.
Much of the Business Portal information is linked to other California state websites. There are also a number of sites that are part of the Business Portal network. One well worth visiting is https://go-biz.com, a question and answer page that addresses many of the most common business issues in compliance, registration, and permits (60); incentive programs and financing (4); taxes (83); and workforce (23). The site (and it is secure: note the https) also has a block which accepts questions which are not addressed on the site and provides a phone number for contacting Business Portal personnel.
For tax issues, http://www.taxes.ca.gov/Small_Business_Assistance_Center/index.html will take one to the California Tax Service Center, which provides clear, well laid-out information that won’t make taxes less painful but will at least make them less confusing. There is also excellent information available at http://www.ftb.ca.gov/business and at http://www.boe.ca.gov.
Also of interest, particularly for those starting out, is a site provided by the California Secretary of State. Found at http://www.sos.ca.gov/business-programs/business-entities/, it provides information of business entities. One of the key provisions is a tool for conducting a name availability search. Obviously, no business wants to call itself Aardvark Plumbing if someone two blocks down is already using that name. This site offers a lot of equally valuable information regarding the type, size and number of different types of business entities in the state,
The Office of Small Business Advocate (OSBA), http://www.business.ca.gov/Programs/Small-Business-Assistance/Office-of-Small-Business-Advocate, provides information and assistance to small businesses to help them succeed in the California marketplace. OSBA hosts a variety of summits, forums, and interagency meetings. It also maintains a comprehensive list of resources for small business technical assistance, financing, and state procurement.
The state does not offer any assistance specifically directed toward women-owned businesses, but it does provide links to federal programs that do. It does, however, offer specific programs for veterans and for the disabled (for the politically correct: that is their word, not mine), all of which are easily found through the sites mentioned above.
Another site that should be attractive is http://dgs.ca.gov/pd/home.aspx, which assists small businesses in doing business with the state. Included in the site’s activities are a Small Business Advisory Council and a program (Leveraged Procurement Agreements, LPA). The latter allows suppliers to negotiate a purchasing agreement with the state, to add additional products to an agreement and to extend that ingredient to other state (and local) purchasing entities.
One aspect of state contact with businesses that some might find disconcerting is that many of the state-wide programs are replicated within various state departments, like CalTrans, BART and others. A firm that wants to pursue business with a specific agency would probable do better to go to that agency’s website and drill down to their version of the program or information.
Outside of the government’s own offerings, entrepreneurs might want to look into the California Small Business Associations (https://csba.com) . CSBA provides a simpler interface between the state and its members. It sponsors such programs as Buy California Small Businesses First, and emphasizes the savings and better service that Buy Local campaigns usually achieve. It represents its members’ interests in Sacramento, and it also provides a workman’s comp insurance program for its members. All business should also check what their local Chambers of Commerce have to offer in the way of assistance. Http://advocacy.calchamber.com/resources/local-chambers provides contact information for local Chambers of Commerce in the state.
I’ll close with a list of several other agencies whose purpose should be self-explanatory:
Department of Business Oversight: http://www.dbo.ca.gov/.
Employment Development Department: http://edd.ca.gov/.
Department of Consumer Affairs: http://www.dca.ca.gov/. There are situations in which a small business does function as a consumer and has available the same protections as any other consumer.
Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Workman’s Compensation: http://dir.ca.gov/.
California Business Investment Services (CalBIS): http://www.business.ca.gov/programs/business-investment-services/business-investment-services. This organization provides site selection and investment counseling for businesses, real-estate executives and site selection consultants considering California for new business investment and expansion.
Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz): http://www.business.ca.gov/. This site will also take one to the Business Portal.
All of these interlock with federal sites to cover those aspects of business which they do not directly cover themselves. This information, coupled with our previous information on federal small business agencies, should provide any small business owner with a point at which to start when a problem arises. And I can’t close without a plug: whatever your problem, your local SCORE chapter has a volunteer available to help you with it – FOR FREE.
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