Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced the launch of the City’s Business Customer Service initiative, a major effort to make it easier for businesses to deal with government as they grow and create jobs. The Mayor also appointed Tokumbo Shobowale as the City’s first Chief Business Operations Officer, a new, dedicated position that will oversee the initiative and serve as the Administration’s lead official ensuring that from now until the end of the Mayor’s term, business-friendly practices are made permanent where possible.
Shobowale will report to Deputy Mayors Robert K. Steel and Cas Holloway, and will also manage the Administration’s existing business acceleration initiatives, including NYC Business Express and the New Business Acceleration Team, and will work closely with other programs like the NYC Business Solutions Centers housed at the Department of Small Business Services and the NYC Development Hub housed at the Department of Buildings.
The Business Customer Service initiative includes new efforts to enable businesses to pay license, permit and other fees, including taxes, online; new efforts to make it possible for businesses to apply online for the necessary licenses, permits and other credentials they need to open their doors and operate legally and safely; new efforts to make easy-to-understand information about how businesses can navigate City government readily available; and new efforts to improve the regulatory climate for business by reducing the number of agencies involved in permitting for things like sidewalk cafés.
The Administration will also work closely with a group of advisors made up of local business leaders with expertise in business operations and customer service. In her 2011 State of the City address Speaker Quinn announced NYC Business Link, a single point of contact for all the City permits, inspections, and services a small business owner needs. Today’s announcement represents a significant step towards meeting that goal. The Administration will report on progress on these initiatives every 90 days from now until the end of 2013. Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel made the announcement at a breakfast forum hosted by the Association for a Better New York.
“Since the beginning of my Administration, I have worked to make New York City the best place in the world to start a business and see it succeed,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “We’ve made huge strides in making it easier for businesses to deal with government, but there is still more red tape to cut, and we’re committed to cutting it. This new initiative is multi-faceted and far-reaching, and it will go a long way toward making sure City government gets out of the way of entrepreneurs who are trying to create jobs and grow our economy.”
“Today’s announcement brings the city a giant step closer to completing the Council’s NYC Business Link Initiative, our comprehensive plan to remove regulatory hurdles and facilitate the growth of small businesses throughout the five boroughs,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “I believe that the Mayor’s new Business Customer Service Initiative, coupled with Council initiatives such as the New Business Acceleration Team, is imperative to continuing to strengthen this important sector of our local economy. I would like to congratulate Tokumbo Shobowale on his new role as the City’s first Chief Business Operations Officer, and I look forward to working closely with him, Mayor Bloomberg, and Deputy Mayor Steel on current and future initiatives to make this city the most business-friendly city in the country.”
“If we want to encourage job creation, we need to treat the City’s businesses like customers,” said Deputy Mayor Steel. “Entrepreneurs and businesses have a choice about where to locate and where to invest, and we want them to choose New York City. We have made great progress in reforming the City’s bureaucracy, but we can and must do more, and Tokumbo’s public and private sector experience makes him the right person to lead this effort.
“Businesses can choose to open their doors anywhere, and we want them to choose New York City,” said Deputy Mayor Holloway. “That’s why we want to make it as easy as possible for companies large and small to get what they need from the City – from construction permits to water connections to safety inspections. I look forward to working with Tokumbo to help as many businesses as possible open their doors.”
“It is an honor to work on this initiative with Mayor Bloomberg, who has made a career – both in government and in the private sector – out of working constantly to better serve business customers,” said Chief Business Operations Officer Shobowale. “I look forward to continuing this effort, working closely with the Mayor, Deputy Mayors Holloway and Steel, Speaker Quinn, the many agencies serving business customers, and most importantly with thousands of dynamic businesses in New York City. We have the most to learn – and to gain – by collaborating with and better serving these hard-working and creative entrepreneurs.”
“Cutting the red tape and making it easier for businesses to deal with government is of premier importance, it is encouraging to see the Mayors’ commitment to helping the small businesses of our city,” said Linda Baran, President and CEO of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce.
“Under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership, the City has become more business friendly, and Tokumbo’s new role will take that even further,” said Leonard Caro, President and CEO of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce. “Through New York City’s strategic initiatives, companies will excel and foster job creation.”
“The business community is fortunate that Mayor Bloomberg understands how difficult it can be to manage a small business in New York City,” said Jack Friedman, Queens Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. “His administration appreciates the importance of making our City more business-friendly has consistently supported policies and has created initiatives to support them. These additional measures will send the message, loud and clear, that New York City is open for business, focused on job creation, and reducing government bureaucracy.”
“We are very excited to be working with Mayor Bloomberg and Tokumbo on further cutting down on the red tape slowing down the growth of small businesses,” said Nancy Ploeger, President of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. “This pro-business initiative will help drive job sustainability and job creation. We look forward to rolling up our sleeves to identify new initiatives and build on the many reforms already enacted.”
“This administration will leave a lasting impression on how business gets done in this city,” said Rick Russo, acting president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “Businesses can now open their doors in record time, thanks to innovative programs like NYC Business Solutions, NBAT and Business Express. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce applauds mayor Bloomberg for his continued commitment to keeping New York City a thriving place to start and operate a business, and we congratulate Tokumbo Shobowale on leading this important city initiative.”
We will make it possible for businesses to apply online for the necessary licenses, permits and other credentials they need to open their doors and operate legally and safely. The City issues 300 business-related licenses and permits – but less than a quarter of them can be applied for online. In 2012, a business owner shouldn’t have to leave his or her business in the middle of the day to visit an office and fill out a paper application. We know that small business owners are some of the busiest people on the planet and that their time is valuable. Accordingly, we are working hard to get all applications online.
- By the end of 2012 we will ensure that all city applications are available online for download, so that business owners won’t ever have to come in to a city office to pick them up
- Within one year we will increase by more than 35 percent the volume of applications and renewals that can be submitted online, including some of the most frequently used applications like those for Food Service Establishment licenses and renewals of Taxi Medallions
- By the end of the Administration we will ensure that 80 percent of new business applications and renewals are possible online
Similarly, we will make it possible for businesses to pay necessary license, permit and other fees online, including taxes. Today business can pay some fees online, but not fees for many critical agencies for businesses. They are still forced to come to city offices during certain hours, or to pay someone to come on their behalf, and to bring cashiers or other checks that they may not use to conduct business with anyone else. We are changing this.
- Starting now customers of the NYC Development Hub will be able to pay for their plan inspection and approvals online. So not only will businesses and their architects be able to submit their plans electronically, schedule appointments quickly and not have to come in to have their building plans reviewed, they will not have to set foot inside a city office period because they will be able to pay remotely, too
- By the end of 2012 business will also have a better way to pay online for property taxes, business and excise taxes and ECB violations
- Within one year businesses will be able to pay for all license renewals online
Checking Status Online
Entrepreneurs and business owners seek insight into the status of their applications and their transactions with government. We will make the process of opening a business clearer and more predictable by conveying status of applications, plans, and inspections including:
- Over the next year, business owners will be able to visit nyc.gov to check several statuses including licenses being processed, whether plan exams have passed, dates of scheduled inspections, whether inspections have been passed, and whether permits have been issues.
- By the end of this calendar year, businesses taking advantage of our New Business Acceleration Team to open their restaurants will be able to follow the status of their applications, inspections and plan reviews online.
Making Information Available
The City now provides a wealth of information about government requirements for starting and operating a business through NYC Business Express, 311 online, and other pages on NYC.gov. For many businesses, however, there is too much information and is often difficult to find what they need, interpret it and understand how all of the pieces fit together. We will make the presentation of this information clearer and simpler than ever including:
- Providing new two-page guides that depict a soup-to-nuts road map and easy-to-understand information about how to open different types of businesses. The first of these guides will be available by August 2012.
- Offering instruction and assistance in different media, such as piloting short online how-to videos that show entrepreneurs the ins and outs of how to comply with important public safety requirements.
These initiatives build on the continuing work of the Regulatory Review Panel, a joint initiative of the Bloomberg Administration and the City Council, which has identified ways to make New York City more supportive of small businesses. As part of the initiative we will also streamline our regulatory processes and identify improvements that lighten the administrative burden upon businesses and make it easier for them to comply with the law, while at the same time maintaining our commitment to safety. We will strive to shorten the time between when a business applies for permission to conduct business and when the city completes the inspection or approval process. This is particularly the case for processes or approvals that involve multiple agencies. Initiatives will include:
- Improving the process for “Place of Assembly” – businesses in which 75 or more people gather indoors – permits. We are working to reduce the number of steps in this process by more than 20 percent, eliminating unnecessary steps and an unnecessary handoff between city agencies. We will reduce the time necessary for the process and more importantly to reduce the variability of the processes so that entrepreneurs can better plan their business investments.
- Continuing improvements to the sidewalk café approval process. Since 2003 we have reduced the number of agencies involved in this process from six to three, and cut the approval processing time roughly in half. Facilitated by these changes, the number of sidewalk cafes has grown from 700 to 1100. We would like to work with the City Council to make additional improvements, so that only two agencies are involved – only one agency if the sidewalk café is unenclosed – and to further streamline and shorten the process so responsible businesses don’t have to jump through unnecessary hoops.
Shobowale is the Chief of Staff to Deputy Mayor Steel. In this capacity he coordinates economic policy development for the Office of the Mayor, as well as oversight of more than a dozen agencies—including those responsible for affordable housing financing, construction and preservation; city planning; taxation and finance; transportation; business services and workforce development; business attraction and retention; and economic development broadly across the five boroughs of New York City. Previously Tokumbo was Chief Operating Officer of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the City’s vehicle for stimulating investment across industry sectors and broadening the City’s tax and employment base by meeting the needs of businesses large and small. He was one of the architects of the Applied Sciences project along with several of the Mayor’s other signature economic development priorities. Before joining NYCEDC, Tokumbo was a strategy consultant for McKinsey & Company and also for Dalberg Development, a firm that works to strengthen global public institutions. Previously, he was Honduras program director for a not-for-profit organization facilitating rural enterprise and energy development. He serves on the boards of the Excellence Boys and Excellence Girls Charter Schools, and is the founding chair of the board of the Leadership Prep Charter Schools in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brownsville, and Ocean Hill Brooklyn. Tokumbo earned an A.B. from Stanford University, an M.A. from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, and an M.B.A. from the MIT Sloan School of Management, earning each degree with academic distinction. He lives in Fort Greene with his wife and son.