Businesses may be scared away from Prince William County because the permit process takes too long, according to a review compiled by DMG Maxims, a Boston-based consulting firm hired by the county to study how permits are approved.
"I think it was very wise of the [board of county] supervisors to request the review now," said Jana Yeates, chairwoman of the commercial review task force, which is part of the Prince William Economic Development Council. "I think to be competitive, you need to know how to be competitive."
Companies such as America Online Inc., which will be opening a 220,000-square-foot technology center in the county, have said in the past that the fast permit process was one of the reasons they moved here. That's because large companies that are in a targeted industry -- technology or bio research -- are allowed to go through the "fast-track" permit process. But most businesses aren't able to participate in the fast track process, and for them, the permit process is long and arduous.
"If you're part of a target industry, the process goes quicker," said Miles Friedman, chairman of the Economic Development Council and member of the task force. "But you need to do that. You need to prioritize."
The fast-track process showed county officials how it could expedite awarding permits, Yeates said. "The fast track process for large projects like AOL . . . probably put out a signal to the board of supervisors that we needed to look at" all permit processes.
The dangers of a slow permit process are obvious: A business weighing a move to Prince William that finds obtaining a permit is too much trouble will take its business to a county where it is easier, faster and cheaper, Yeates said. "And we hope to keep existing business happy."
Currently, the entire permit process takes 103 days. The board hopes to get that down to a maximum of 65 to 70 days, Yeates said.
The task force of 18 local business executives is charged with developing solutions for a quicker process.
Possibilities for a speedier permit process include "looking at quality control," Yeates said. When a business applies for a permit, the board will look at the plans immediately. If the business does not "meet the grade," it will be pushed back right away, rather than sent through the entire process.
Yeates also said the group hopes to look at the bigger picture involving the permit. "They need to look at it from a generalist standpoint and get a reviewer who is multi-certified."
Her business, Employment Enterprises Inc., which is based in Manassas, is getting ready for renovation, so she has a personal stake in streamlining the process. "It all has to go through the county. The smoother, quicker and easier I can get it through is just beneficial to me," she said.
The study is not done. The task force, which was created to oversee the study, is analyzing the report and will make a presentation to the board of supervisors on July 14 or 15.
"We see this as a real positive thing," Friedman said. "A lot of communities are doing this self-analysis. I think it gives a real message to the business community."