Following longstanding complaints from Detroit business owners, the city's building department announced in early December that it had officially changed the permitting and inspection processes required to open an establishment in the Motor City, according to Crane's Detroit Business.

Among other adaptations made to modernize the processes – described by many as overly confusing – Detroit's Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department explained that forms had been redesigned and related online capabilities were improved. Work is close to completion, CDB reported.

Less forms, more online capabilities
In particular, a "Quick Start Permitting Guide" was created to facilitate the online process by guiding users through the steps needed to open an establishment that involve zoning, permitting, inspections, certification and proper licensing.

Overall, (potential) businesses can now complete between 80% and 90% of their required application work over the internet. For the project, those responsible garnered feedback after engaging between 25 and 30 entrepreneurs at a series of roundtables and over 15 workshops.

The BSEED's most recent effort was carried out as part of a public-private partnership established with Quicken Loans' Community Fund, which has provided $90,000 in funding over the past three years. QLCF assistance was not used in the structural changes made to the processes or a related color-coding "wayfinding" project at the BSEED offices to make them easier to navigate.

Several electronic adaptations were made to the processes. For instance, a jargon-free online platform was added with a "TurboTax feel," the inclusion of a platform capable of walking users through the required steps and the equipping of inspectors with mobile IoT devices to expedite the recording of results.

Increasing numbers of applications
In addition to complaints, the process changes were made in response to what CDB reported has been an increasing rise in the number of new business licenses and commercial building permits over the past five years. For context: 4,645 building permits were granted in 2014 and 5,842 were issued as of the end of November 2019.

Detroit development company owner and former city zoning manager Tonja Stapleton said that she believes the processes would have been much less confusing had changes been made earlier to address concerns. Stapleton explained that she believes residents incorrectly assumed they were just inherently "very complicated" due to political motivation.

"I think (the city) didn't utilize technology and it wasn't modernized….focusing first on customer service and then automatic these various plan review and permitting processes has been amazing," Stapleton said.