Entrepreneurs in Boise face a daunting number of regulatory hurdles to get their businesses off the ground. There is ample opportunity for officials to reduce the number of steps for some of the city’s most complex processes, lower fees, and better integrate the variety of regulatory requirements into more robust step-by-step guides.
In Boise, the cost, delays, and complexity of the regulatory process for small businesses can make it very difficult for entrepreneurs to start their ventures.
Opening a business in Boise can be an expensive endeavor. For example, restaurants in Boise must pay 10 different fees totaling $2,946 for licenses and permits to get started. Barbershops must pay $1,609 and bookstores must pay $1,150—all before opening day.
Boise meets only two of five criteria for a complete one-stop shop. It does not connect city-level requirements with state- and county-level requirements to open a business and does not provide step-by-step guides for popular business types. In late 2020, Boise transitioned from hosting an OpenCounter portal—an online tool that helps business owners complete regulatory requirements—to an Accela portal, which removed many user-friendly features such as step-by-step guides and cost estimates for starting businesses.
Entrepreneurs must complete 59 steps to open a restaurant. Comparatively, home-based businesses in Boise only need to complete seven steps to start their business. The additional steps for brick-and-mortar businesses are due to several inspections and in-person submissions of paperwork.
We calculated this metric by totaling the fees for all the licenses, permits, and registrations each business needs to get started.
Number of Fees
We calculated this metric by counting how many fees governments impose on each business for completing registrations and paperwork.
We calculated this metric by totaling the number of agencies entrepreneurs must work with in order to get up and running—whether in the form of submitting paperwork to an agency’s staff, or in terms of abiding by regulations that an agency has promulgated.
We calculated this metric by counting the number of compliance activities each entrepreneur needs to complete in person, rather than online or by mail.
Number of Forms
We calculated this metric by counting the various forms and applications each business needs to submit
Number of Steps
We calculated this metric by totaling the discrete tasks an entrepreneur must complete to start each of the business types.
Through our comparative analysis of five common business types, we learned that Boise’s building permit process is cumbersome, especially for a smaller city. The process requires entrepreneurs to provide copious supporting documentation, complete numerous steps, and navigate a maze of online instructions, making it a serious impediment to starting a business.
The building permit process is onerous, with at least nine additional sets of documentation to submit with the primary permit application. For many requirements, it is not always clear on the website whether or not additional materials must be submitted, such as forms and fees for sewer connection or erosion and sediment control.
Home-based business owners are prohibited from using more than 500 square feet of their home for business activities. Home tutoring is limited to only one pupil at a time with a maximum of eight pupils seen a day.
State-level restrictions and requirements can make it additionally challenging for entrepreneurs to realize their dreams. For example, a barber shop owner can be denied an occupational license for barbering if he or she has been convicted of a felony.
Accommodations for New or Small Businesses
No notable accommodations.
Officials and policymakers have the opportunity to make it cheaper, faster, and simpler to start a business in Boise. City officials should:
Revert to using an OpenCounter-style portal that houses step-by-step guides and cost estimates based on inputs from the entrepreneur about the business they want to open. While the current Accela portal is helpful and allows almost all city forms to be completed and paid for online, it lacks OpenCounter’s cohesive flow of process and total permit cost estimates.
Create “how to” guides for starting common business types. In the absence of a return to an OpenCounter-style portal, officials should focus on creating clear, online step-by-step guides on starting common business types.
Simplify the process to obtain building permits by combining steps and paperwork, creating more guides for complying with agency rules, and lowering fees.
Remove the 500-square-foot restriction on home-based businesses.
Work with the state to eliminate barriers to work that often target vulnerable residents, like criminal records disqualifying license applicants.
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