County's 'One Stop' center is up and running

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 15, 2013 

Merced County's Development Resource Center, also known as the "One Stop" project, is up and running, according to Mark Hendrickson, the county's director of commerce, aviation and economic development.

The project, which began last summer, simplifies many business processes by housing multiple departments — planning, environmental health, fire, buildings and roads division — under one roof.

"Each one of those departments now work as a single team," Hendrickson said. "We're able to provide our clients with a very clear and comprehensive game plan so they can find success."

In the past, entrepreneurs interested in opening a business in Merced County would have to drive to multiple locations to reach each department, which often discouraged new business growth.

"We identified that as being an impediment to promoting better business practice," Hendrickson noted. "Now each of the departments that touch the process are in one location, so we can provide customers better answers without them having to go throughout the entire county to get the service they want and deserve."

The one-stop system cuts down on wait times for many routine "over-the-counter" applications, Hendrickson said. For example, home occupancy permits, which could potentially take days, are now processed in about 15 minutes.

Although the center helps businesses of all sizes, Hendrickson said it especially benefits small businesses, which he calls the "life blood" of our community.

The cost of the project is $191,919, with $100,000 coming from Supervisor Hub Walsh's discretionary funds. The rest was allotted in the county's final budget.

To date, Hendrickson said the county has spent $35,000, mostly on equipment and software. The team is in the process of transferring each department's data and launching a software system that speaks a common language.

For now, the Development Resource Center's entire staff is available from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and from 1 to 5 p.m. Thursdays, with officials from the building, planning and fire departments available at all times.

The center had a trial opening Jan. 3. Hendrickson said he anticipates full-time operation very soon.

"We'll be looking at where we've been successful and where we need room for improvement, and that will dictate when we'll have hours well beyond the Tuesdays and Thursdays," he said.

The feedback has been positive, but Hendrickson said the project still has many more features that will launch soon, including the ability to complete processes online and teleconferencing capabilities.

"While California is recognized as a difficult place to do business, we want Merced County to be the premier place for businesses to take root or expand," Hendrickson said. "We are moving down a new path with a new attitude."

The Development Resource Center is on the second floor of Merced County's Administration building at 2222 M St. in Merced.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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