Doing Business in Your Town: Navigating the State and Local Government Maze

Whether you are a start-up or an established business, understanding your obligations with regard to complying with state and local government laws and regulations is an essential part of your small business toolkit.

Many small business owners aren’t aware of the necessary permits and licenses needed to operate legally. Of course, business laws vary from state-to-state, and when you throw county laws into the mix, it can be hard to know where to find the information you need.

Luckily, e-government initiatives have made it very easy to find all the answers you need in one place. There are tools and resources provided by the government – from seminars, to in-person assistance – that can help you start-up, build and operate a successful, and compliant, business.

Small Business Resources and Tools Available in Your Backyard

I am a big advocate of and blog regularly about the tools and resources the site provides to help small businesses navigate the maze of government information.

One of the little known assets on the site is’s state-by-state “Small Business Guides”.
Available for all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, these guides connect small business owners with the information they need to start and manage a business in a particular locality – at the state, county and city level.

These guides can be accessed via this interface. From here small business owners can select the state in which they operate and quickly access the following:

  • Starting a Business: The steps it takes to start or expand a business in your state such as business planning, financing, registering a business name, defining a business structure, and so on
  • Operating a Business: Staying on top of tax requirements, employment law, license renewals, and other legalities
  • Training and Assistance: Links to your state’s SBA offices for information on loans, small business centers for minority- and women-owned businesses, and city SCORE offices
  • Cities and Counties:  From this page you can access every city and county Web site within any state

You can also find answers to common questions through the “How Do I?” field, e.g. how do I “Get a Business License?” and you’ll be connected to information specific to your state.

Each state’s Small Business Guide page also links to other useful tools such as “Permit Me” and a Loans and Grants Tool. These are such great tools that connect you quickly and easily to the information you need to finance your specific business needs and stay on top of all the licenses you need to operate legally.

Small Biz Friendly Cities to Know About

Despite the hard economic times, there are many cities nationwide that are particularly favorable for starting or re-locating a small business. Within the state-by-state Small Business Guide framework, has identified some of these cities and has developed “Featured Cities” Web portals.

From these links you can find resources to start researching your small business idea, develop a business plan, and take advantage of free and low-cost services to get your business off the ground.

You’ll also find information about specific tax credits and small business loans offered through city programs.

Currently has “Featured City” portals for the following: