Alaska heating up online services

Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development

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Alaska officials want to turn their new online licensing program into a gateway for other services that promote businesses. The idea is for government to be a resource, not just a regulator.

The Department of Community and Economic Development began accepting business license renewals in late October to improve customer service and convenience.

However, Tim Hahnlen, the department's data processing manager, said, "We're going to be a providing a service to the businesses. There's going to be some value added to the thing" beyond providing information and paying fees.

A second Web program — a Line of Business search — allows the public to search the database for businesses by category, name, location or owner. Firms that use the online licensing program can add their e-mail address and home page address so customers can link to them from the directory.

The next step is to create an online "yellow pages" directory of businesses that have included links to their Web sites, Hahnlen said.

Of the 2,000 enterprises that have filed applications electronically, only a handful have provided electronic contact information. Hahnlen estimates that about half the businesses will include e-mail and Web links once they all have a chance to renew their licenses.

Businesses may find an incentive to do so as the department moves to tie the business license database to other projects, such as tourism development. Someone looking for charter boat operators in Homer, for instance, could find a company link at the state's tourism site.

And with upcoming capabilities to modify the information on their licenses, businesses can enter the system and add links to their Web sites. The department benefits from not having to maintain the list of sites, Hahnlen said.

"We used to charge people to access this data. Now, if you come at it from the Web, we give it away for free," he said.

The department's division of occupational licensing plans to put some public access terminals in the lobbies of its three offices so business owners also can modify their licenses online without charge.

"If they want to fill out a sheet of paper then they need to get out a five-dollar bill," Hahnlen said.

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