The Secretary of State’s office makes plenty of headlines each Election Day. But on the other 360 days a year, the office is equally critical to our entrepreneurs, business owners, and local officials. Thousands rely on the Corporate Division for all new business registration, on its administrative functions for doing business with the state, and all using processes too often stuck in the past century.
New Hampshire’s business-friendly reputation can’t afford to be held back by a Secretary of State’s office that is closer to the ‘rotary phone era’ than the ‘smart phone era’. It’s time to improve customer services and save money for both businesses & taxpayers alike with modern technology. Here are some ideas shared with me by business owners:
1. Make new business creation easier by coordinating new registrations across state agencies. Today, a typical new business must file separate paperwork & obtain different ID numbers from numerous state agencies: first, the Secretary of State, then also with the Department of Employment Security and often the Department of Revenue Administration and (depending on the business), the Department of Labor or Environmental Services. Past attempts to coordinate “one-stop” shopping for new business have gotten bogged down in the SoS office, in part because it refuses to share IT services with other agencies. New leadership can better serve our entrepreneurs.
2. Time for a new website. We’ve all gotten lost in the current Secretary of State website, which often adds more confusion than clarity. In the past week alone, I’ve heard from a small businessman who pays a law firm to handle routine tasks like filing annual reports because of his culminated frustration with the website, and another who says it often takes two to three attempts to submit each form needed for his small practice before it processes correctly. Online business transactions were launched years ago, but various administrative transactions are still listed as “coming soon” online today; too many processes experience slow load times during high traffic; the online campaign finance system is unsecured; and a mobile app announced in October of 2014 for business services is still not available four years later. It’s time for a full overhaul with mobile-friendly, responsive design; with a clear site architecture that makes sense to users; and with automated workflows and easily understandable language.
3. Provide an optional directory of Notaries to facilitate business transactions. Many state laws require a transaction to be certified by a Notary Public. Notaries register with the Secretary of State, which could easily allow Notaries to opt-in to a public directory to better facilitate business transactions in NH.
4. Allow digital correspondence when time is pressing. Volunteer legislators and town clerks must often mail or fax information to the office, or wait to receive it by mail – even when deadlines are impending and security is not an issue. It’s time to adopt rules allowing email, phone, and digital correspondence, with paper backup as needed.
5. Strengthen Certificates of Good Standing and cut fees with secure digital technology. Certificates of Good Standing currently consist of a physical piece of paper or an emailed PDF. Blockchain-powered secure digital Certificates can provide more portability, sharability, and ownership for users, and can be embedded with expiration dates and instant, secure online verification to cut the current fees on NH businesses.
6. Streamline the contract process for New Hampshire businesses & nonprofits who do business with state agencies. Hundreds of New Hampshire small businesses & nonprofits do business with the state through a slow, paper-based contracting process which often turns off competitive local bidders because of the bureaucracy and paperwork. It’s 2018 and we can do better.
7. Provide public metrics for new business creation & customer service. The Secretary of State’s office should provide statistics annually on the number of new businesses created in New Hampshire – as well as the average wait time and number of attempts for key functions like trade name registration, new registration, annual reports, and more. Clear goals and public accountability are critical ingredients for better performance.
Every day, our state competes with our neighbors for new businesses, new jobs, and new growth – and we can’t afford for our entrepreneurs and job-creators to be slowed down by outdated tools and bureaucratic leadership. There are hard-working staff in the Office of the Secretary of State and they are dedicated to serving the people of New Hampshire. It’s time we support them with the modern tools, training, and leadership that consumers expect in 2018.