The Business Plan: Receiving help from small business facilitators

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The Business Plan: Receiving help from small business facilitators
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By Bill Reagan

Over the years, this column has recommended resources that Alexandria small business owners can access to become more productive, make contacts or solve problems. We believe it is important to focus on one of those resources this month — the Small Business and Residential Facilitation Office of the city’s permit center.

Alexandria city government recognizes that obtaining permits — many of them mandated by state law and regulations — can be time consuming and confusing to business owners. Alexandria is one of the few jurisdictions that provides individual facilitation through these processes.

Facilitators play many roles. They explain the process, from board hearings, building permits and inspections, to receiving your certificate of occupancy and business license. They explain the steps required for your business and help you along the way.

They also provide realistic timelines for your project based on the type of business and the extent of work proposed. These timelines, along with understanding the steps in the process, help businesses budget and plan appropriately.

Facilitators also identify and explain potential code requirements. Whether you are moving into a new space or renovating your existing property, they can review floor plans and identify critical issues. Some examples include requirements for additional bathrooms, additional ventilation, new or relocation of exit doors or a sprinkler system.

Permit center facilitators can also determine if a registered design professional is required. Virginia law provides guidance for drawings that must have the sign and seal of a registered design professional. Based on your use, the building height and the size of your space, they can explain this requirement to entrepreneurs. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center strongly encourages businesses to work with experienced designers and contractors who are familiar with state rules and the City of Alexandria and can make referrals to these professionals as needed.

Facilitators also act as your link to other city departments. Before you start your project or if revisions are requested, they can reach out to any departments to answer specific questions and help you understand how the requirements of each agency impact each other. This clarifies expectations for plans prior to the development of design documents and can assist in the response to revision requests from the city.

Most importantly, permit center facilitators are available to help with any questions or problems. They can assist business owners if they have any concerns throughout the process or are unaware of the next steps to take to keep the project moving forward. The facilitators are Allison Cook and Maryia Lackansingh. They can be reached by emailing smallbusinessfacilitation@alexandriava.gov or by visiting the permit center at City Hall in Suite 4200.

The city is dedicated to supporting small businesses, and staff is glad to help your small business every step of the way. We are fortunate to do business in a city that is there to engage with you to solve problems, overcome obstacles and guide you along the way.

The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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