Up To Code?

By Robin White-Goode
Warren Brown’s sweet enterprise, CakeLove bakery, makes everything on-site at three of its locations. But, for its newest location in Canton, Maryland, its cakes and other goodies are baked in a neighboring county and transported daily to the retail outlet (Brown has two bakeries in Maryland, one in Virginia, and one in Washington, D.C.). When Brown called the local health department in November 2007 to familiarize himself with inspection procedures, he encountered regulatory inquiries about transport procedures for the baked items and intercounty commerce.

“I wasn’t expecting those kinds of issues to be raised,” recalls Brown, whose success also includes hosting Food Network’s Sugar Rush, a television show dedicated to desserts. “But I knew I could go to Business.gov to find some answers.”

Developed to ease the burden of compliance related issues among business owners, Business.gov is a presidential E-government initiative, managed by the Small Business Administration in partnership with 21 other federal agencies. The site provides access to all federal regulatory information, state and local information for all industries, and links to industry resources and state compliance sites through one centralized Web portal.

Originally launched in 2004, Business.gov was relaunched in October 2006 with a new focus on compliance information, federal forms, and contacts.

“Business.gov saves businesses time and money by providing access to more than 30,000 compliance documents,” says Nancy Sternberg, program manager of the Washington, D.C.-based Business Gateway Initiative, an e-government project whose mission is to utilize technology in helping businesses more easily find, understand, and comply with laws and regulations.

Taxes, licensing, and permit issues; worker safety; environmental regulations; and international commerce are just a few areas in which businesses may need to ensure that they are in compliance with applicable regulations. All of this can be hard to stay on top of because some states have additional regulations, and requirements can also vary by industry. The government site notes that in the end, small businesses are the hardest hit by the costs of meeting federal regulatory requirements. Sternberg says small companies already spend about $7,500 per employee per year in compliance costs. In addition, 40% of businesses with fewer than 500 employees spend more than 100 hours each year on compliance issues with federal regulations. There’s little choice in the matter: stiff fines can result, or in some instances businesses can be required to close until the situation is remedied. A survey among small business owners using Business.gov revealed the site’s benefits: 72% said they saved up to 25 hours and almost half of the respondents reported saving money.

“Business.gov organizes information in a readable format,” says Sharon Freeman, owner and president of Washington, D.C.-based Lark-Horton Global Consulting Ltd., an international economic development consultancy. She uses Business.gov often and refers others to the site, noting that, though voluminous, the information on the site is accessible.

With customer feedback solicited every quarter, and focus groups used to assess the site’s usability and effectiveness, Sternberg says the site, which is updated weekly and averages about 11,000 visitors per day, will continue