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As much as ever, supporting small business is important

The pandemic has strained business owners, employees, and customers alike, making “doing business as usual” a challenge. In response, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office seeks to assist in any way possible, and we remain committed to serving businesses throughout our state.

We are proud to report that since January 1 of this year, we have processed more than 11,900 new business registrations. Somewhat amazingly, this is higher than the pre-COVID days in 2019 and is accompanied by the great news that West Virginia’s unemployment rate has declined for the past six months.

These statistics send a clear message: despite ongoing pandemic struggles, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in West Virginia, and people are finding ways to adapt to the uncertain climate. Government should answer these innovators with our encouragement and support these businesses in every way we can.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Secretary of State’s Office remained open and continued to process business and licensing requests. While the Capitol and Business Hubs have not been open to routine foot traffic, that has not stopped us from processing paper and electronically submitted new business registrations, updates, and annual reports. We have made it as easy as possible for customers to access our services online 24/7/365.

In early October, we launched our new online Enterprise Registration & Licensing System. This technological advancement allows for 24-hour access to online services for registration and filings relating to Notaries, Charitable Organizations, Professional Fundraisers, Private Investigators, Marriage Celebrants, Athlete Agents, Scrap Metal Dealers, Trademarks, and Apostilles. The ERLS is a significant investment for the state that has already transformed the way our state’s businesses, professionals, and entrepreneurs interact with government as conveniently and efficiently as possible. The public also has greater access to view these filings 24 hours a day than ever before.

The system is in addition to the national award-winning WV One Stop Business Portal. This easy-to-use portal was launched in 2018 and laid the foundation for any government agency to offer all business transactions in a single online location.

Our desire is not just to stay competitive in today’s digital economy, but to stay on the cutting edge. That is why significant investments, 24/7/365 capabilities, and movement toward 100% online transactions are important. By investing in infrastructure and technology, we help ensure that West Virginia’s economy continues to grow and thrive.

We have taken great strides to make it as easy as possible for consumers to start and run a business in West Virginia: now, it’s your turn.

Remember these shops, restaurants, and services in your holiday plans. Include small businesses in your holiday activities. Most businesses have found creative ways to safely adapt to the new environment, offering alternatives to traditional in-person services. Many restaurants offer takeout options, and stores have added e-commerce opportunities or curbside pickup. For just about any service or product, you can now find an online option to make a purchase from a locally-owned small business. And a gift card for the local business is always a great gift idea.

Do your part this season and seek safe opportunities to support local establishments. After all, many of these business owners and employees are your friends and neighbors.

Saturday, November 28, is the nation’s annual “Small Business Saturday.” It is one day set aside during the holiday season for consumers to focus their attention on small and locally-owned businesses. We whole-heartedly support this initiative.

I wish everyone a joyful holiday season. Let’s enjoy the coming weeks in a safe and healthy manner so we can quickly get to a prosperous post-COVID future here in West Virginia.

(Mac Warner is in his fourth year as West Virginia Secretary of State. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the West Virginia University College of Law.)

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