Mayors Challenge Finalist: Saint Paul (Video, Vote)

Idea Summary: Permit Saint Paul will spur investment in our city by enabling developers, entrepreneurs, and residents to secure their licenses and permits through a user-friendly, web-based consumer portal. Click here to vote for this idea.

Remember going to a storefront office to buy an airline ticket? Or to the library to pick up tax forms? Or to a box office to choose seats for a show? Most of those iconic customer service counters have been replaced by on-line sites, kiosks, or mobile applications. Whether we are consumers or entrepreneurs, we expect to be able to do our business on the web. We place and receive orders, do our banking, schedule our deliveries and file our taxes - all from the convenience of our home or office. Faced with getting a building permit or business license, however, we are forced to come to City Hall and meet with a plan reviewer who will talk us through the process. From there, we may be sent to a list of other offices or into an endless loop of phone tag to track down the approvals we need. At any point, our application is at risk of being delayed by miscommunication or a critical person being out of the office. And, only if we are lucky, will someone take the initiative to point us toward a change in our plans that would make it all easier.

In an environment where cities depend on private investment, this model is neither sustainable nor responsive to the marketplace.

Inspired by TurboTax, Permit Saint Paul will provide a level of customer service that developers and entrepreneurs should expect from their city government. Enter an address and key words - industrial building, single family home, restaurant, or chicken coop - and a prospective investor will be guided, by a series of questions and answers, through the approval process. Before spending a nickel, he or she will have a sense of what the process will involve, how long it will take, what kinds of information will be required ... and whether another location or business plan would be more easily approved. For the majority of customers, an on-line application and electronic payment will complete the process, saving them time and money.

Permit Saint Paul, when it is up and running, will brand Saint Paul as a city that is open for business. Our staff, rather than laboring under the weight of annual budget cuts, will be able to devote their time to those applications that are more complex and take full advantage of their expertise.

It's an idea whose time has come.


This post is an entry in the Mayors Challenge Fan Favorite Selection, a partnership between The Huffington Post and Bloomberg Philanthropies that allows readers to vote on their favorite idea among the 20 Mayors Challenge finalists. The Mayors Challenge is a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life. To view the ideas from the 20 finalists, click the grid below -- and then vote for your favorite here! And follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #MayorsChallenge.

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