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Getting down to business

New state small business liaison helps to streamline licensing processes

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Ruth Miles, right, is the small business advocate for the state of Oregon's Office of Small Business Assistance. At a business fair Thursday, Sept. 26, in Portland, Miles greeted Cheri Swoboda, owner of Mother Peach Caramels.

In June 2013, an entrepreneur from Tangent submitted a business plan and license application with the state of Oregon’s Private Career School Licensing Unit. His intention was to open a truck driving school, preparing folks to become commercial truck drivers.

Students had signed up, space had been rented and curriculum had been developed.

But for seven months, the would-be-business owner’s paperwork languished within the state’s licensing unit, barely keeping pace with a snail in terms of progress. Frustrated after losing several students, the entrepreneur turned to the relatively new Office of Small Business Assistance through the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.

“He told me it had taken him eight months to get to step two out of eight steps in the licensing process,” said Ruth Miles, recently appointed small business advocate for the department. “All he wanted was to find out what he could do to speed up the process.”

Sound familiar?

Small businesses account for 98 percent of Oregon’s commerce and employ more than half the state’s workforce. They are also vitally important to rural areas, which are dependent on small business for economic growth.

But ask any upstart business owner and he or she will tell you it’s no joke that dealing with the maze of state licensing units is frustrating.

Miles intends to solve that problem by bridging the gap of communication been state agencies and license applicants to streamline their processes so new businesses can actually do business.

A longtime Gresham resident, Miles owned and operated her own local company, Crown Business Services, for nearly two decades. Originally a secretarial service, Crown grew to encompass helping newly pink-slipped employees move from “crisis to opportunity” through resume building and retraining resources. Miles also became a partner in Mt. Hood Community College’s former Steps to Success program, providing “one step” in aiding those transitioning back into the workforce.

But in 2004, Oregon’s Ballot Measure 30, which would have raised the minimum tax corporations pay in state income tax and potentially change the tax code, worried Miles as a business owner.

“I was concerned (the ballot measure) would have an impact on my business,” Miles said. “In retrospect, I don’t know if that would have been the case, but I felt I had to say something and do something.”

Miles embarked on a personal mission to learn how state leaders create new laws and regulations. She spent evenings and weekends glad handing and putting her face in front of politicians in Salem, learning how the legislative process could affect small businesses. She became an administrative assistant for Rep. Bruce Hanna, House District 7 in Southern Oregon, and spent nine years working with Hanna’s constituent case work. What she found was a passion for greasing the wheels in the legislative progress that most would prefer to avoid.

“The things people hate about the legislative process, I love!” Miles said, laughing. “I love the drama, I love the deadlines. I found my stride really fast.” Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Miles was appointed as small business advocate in January by Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown.

In 2013, the Oregon Legislature created the Office of Small Business Assistance under the Office of the Secretary of State. It was an effort by the Legislature to provide business owners with an advocate to help them navigate the licensing process. The small business advocate, a position appointed by the secretary of state, works collaboratively with state agencies and small businesses to resolve issues.

Miles moved into her position in January. One of her first cases was the Tangent businessman attempting to get licensing for his truck driving school. After learning the entrepreneur was working to develop his business, and growing frustrated by the legalese and seemingly unending licensing paperwork, she recommended he have someone else address the details. He hired a worker part-time to do the job.

Within the Private Carrier School Licensing Unit, Miles found employees were using old-school accordion files for each applicant. With open access to sensitive documents by multiple people, she recommended a central database for individual files so information could be updated faster and all parties were privy to the applicant’s status.

The Tangent businessman did receive the state’s blessing to officially hang out his shingle, Miles said. But the case was also a pebble in the pond, with ripples that touched more than a single small business.

“All boats rise with the tide,” Miles said. “When I help one business with a problem, all the other businesses benefit. I tell people this office is meant to help people who are stuck in red tape with a state agency. And I run with scissors. That’s what I do.”

More info

Oregon’s small business advocate is an independent liaison for small businesses having trouble with a state agency. Miles works both sides of the fence — with business owners and state agencies — to find solutions that streamline processes for both parties and improve the state’s business climate.

For more information, call the Office of Small Business Assistance at 1-844-469-5512 or online at sos.oregon.gov/BusinessSOS.

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