Editorial: Not so business friendly

The first substantial case pursued by Oregon’s small business advocate vividly confirmed what business owners have been saying for years: It can be a torment to navigate the state bureaucracy.

Ruth Miles is the state’s new small business advocate. Her office number — 844-469-5512 — is like a 911 for small business. The Oregon Legislature created the Office of Small Business Assistance in the Secretary of State’s Office in 2013. Miles recently told us a discouraging tale.

David Stahl of Tangent wanted to start up a private school to give students training to get a license so they can drive a truck — a commercial driver’s license.

He started the process of getting a state license for his school in June 2013. By February, he was only on step two of an eight-step process.

Stahl had leased space. He had bought equipment. He had students waiting to enroll. But he could do nothing more without a license. The process of submitting all the necessary information about business plans, catalog, closure plans, curriculum, financials and more was complicated and confusing.

There are many good reasons the state is careful about handing out licenses. But Miles found problems.

When Miles went to meet with staff in the Private Career School Licensing Unit, they had on the table a large accordion folder with all of Stahl’s documents and sticky notes crammed in. It turns out the staff can’t use its computer database to keep pending applications on file, because they would show up as already licensed schools. That’s not the end of the world, but it’s a not a good symptom.

The office was also set up so that three people have different responsibilities for different parts of an applicant’s license. That means nobody’s responsible for ensuring an application moves efficiently through the process. It’s no wonder Stahl got frustrated. The process is not set up to be easy for the applicant.

If the office had an automated system of license submissions, it could require all fields are filled out before an application could be submitted. That would save some of the frustrating back and forth. But the office doesn’t have that. It has frustrating back and forth.

We don’t know what else Miles will find as she works through more cases. But her phone number is also one legislators should dial to learn what needs to be changed, if Oregon is serious about being business-friendly.