Starting and Running a Business in Grand Rapids

1. Overview

Are you excited to start your own business? You have a lot to think about, so we want to help you get started in the right direction. This guide is here to help you do just that.

Before you open for business, you’ll have certain requirements and paperwork to complete. Most businesses need a license from the City, County or State. We’ll get more in-depth on that under the Licenses and Permits section of this guide. Is your business still a concept? We also have information on local resources to help make your dream a reality.

Keep in mind that while we’ve included important information and resources in this guide, we may not have addressed the requirements for each situation. You're responsible for meeting all local, state, or federal requirements for your business. Any time you have a question, contact your local, state or federal agencies to ensure you haven’t missed a step.

Let’s get down to business! Click Next to get started.

Would you prefer to have a piece of paper that covers the basics of this guide? We also have a checklist you can print.

2. Business Resources

Have you asked yourself if there is someone out there who can help you get started or grow your business? If you’re looking for answers, we can help. Check out these great resources available in our City:

City of Grand Rapids

Office of Diversity and Inclusion

The City of Grand Rapids has an Equal Business Opportunity Program that enhances our suppliers in the following areas:

1.       Professional Services

2.       Goods and Services

3.       Construction

We offer a variety of Bid Discounts for businesses looking to do business with the City. One in particular is our Micro Local Business Enterprise (MLBE) Certification, this FREE certification helps increase contracting with small local companies. To learn more about our MLBE Program, please contact our Office of Diversity and Inclusion for details.

The West Michigan Small Business Resource Guide

The City's Economic Development Department teamed up with local organizations to create this list of resources. Their goal is to enhance small business communities throughout the West Michigan area. Click here to take a look, you might find what you need.

Have questions? Call the Economic Development Department at (616) 456-3431.

Michigan Small Business Development Center

The MI-SBDC is a non-profit organization funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration. They provide services such as low-cost training, one-on-one counseling, and market research.

Click here to visit their website, or give them a call at (616) 331-7370 to find out what services they can offer you. You can also email sbdc@gvsu.edu for more information.

West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative

This initiative gives new high tech ventures access to a variety of services to help grow your business. Whether you're in need of testing equipment in a controlled environment, business plan development, legal services, or market research, WMSTI is a one stop shop for your business.

You can contact them by calling (616) 331-5840 or email them at wmsti@gvsu.edu.

Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW)

GROW is an SBA funded, non-profit business center. They provide training and ongoing counseling for their clients. GROW also offers a microloan program for qualified individuals seeking a loan.

Here’s their mission: Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) is a service focused on women at various stages of business ownership. We are the entrepreneurial resource to help women take the next step, empowering and supporting them with professional expertise for a lifetime.

Click here to find out more about GROW. You can call them at (616) 458-3404 or email info2@growbusiness.org

SCORE

Looking for advice from someone who’s been in your shoes? SCORE is a group of volunteers made up of active and retired business owners and executives. This non-profit organization offers free mentoring, business counseling and low-cost workshops. SCORE volunteers use their real life business experience to help your business thrive.

Find out if SCORE can help your business by clicking here. You can also call them at (616) 771-0305.

Grand Rapids Public Library

Yes, the Library. The Library provides access to a variety of business information and resources, both on-site and via the internet. Dust off that Library Card, and use it to search online from any one of the Library's eight locations.

Visit their online Small Business Resource Center here or stop in to use the Small Business Resource Center at the Main Library downtown. You can also call (616) 988-5400 or email businesslibrarian@grpl.org for more information.

Start Garden

Start Garden is a resource for Entrepreneurs starting with new ideas, start-ups, and existing small businesses. From local entrepreneur support to 5x5 Business Pitch Night to Venture Capital investment opportunities and more, this organization can offer support in many ways. Visit the Start Garden website to learn more.

Michigan Economic Development Corp

 

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) works to attract new businesses and keep existing businesses in Michigan. They'll help your business with site location, financing, and employee recruiting and training. They also provide other resources and services.

Visit the MEDC website to see what they can do for you. You can also call them at 1-888-522-0103 or email your questions to MEDCservices@michigan.org.

GR Chamber of Commerce

This group serves as a support organization for local businesses in Grand Rapids. The Chamber offers business services, advocacy and public policy, and talent development. Visit the GR Chamber of Commerce website to learn more. You can reach them by phone at 616-771-0300.

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

 

The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to working with all members of the community to increase the economic advancement of Hispanic owned business. They work to promote the professional growth of the Hispanic business leaders in West Michigan. Visit the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce website to learn more. Or you can give them a call at 616-452-3960.

Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB)

 

Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) is a vehicle for economic development and empowerment in the Grand Rapids area. GRABB offers a black business directory, advocates for local businesses, and creates awareness to help businesses grow and become economically sustainable. Visit the GRABB website for more info.

The Starting Block

The Starting Block is a home for individuals who want to take a special recipe to market or create a food or natural resource business. They provide entrepreneurs, producers, and processors properly equipped, licensed, and inspected food processing kitchens. The Starting Block gives aspiring businesses reasonable rentals without the initial investment in costly facilities and equipment. Check out the Starting Block website for more details. Or give them a call at 231-873-1432.

The Right Place

The Right Place has assisted thousands of West Michigan companies to invest more than $4.7 billion and 44,000 new jobs throughout the area. The Right Place offers confidential, comprehensive business services. They meet with current and prospective companies, connecting them to the resources they need to grow in Grand Rapids. Visit The Right Place website or give them a call at 616-771-0325.

Grand Rapids Inventors Network (GRIN)

The Grand Rapids Inventors Network is a regional non-profit organization that helps its members advance their creative ideas. It's also a place where inventors, marketers, and creative people can learn and network. GRIN helps inventors help themselves through networking and experience-sharing with other inventors. The organization encourages and nurtures the new inventor towards professional growth and product realization. Check out the GRIN website for more information.

Spring GR

SpringGR is a grassroots business training experience that uses the Business Codel Canvas(PDF, 581KB) (think of it like a road map for starting a business). They help entrepreneurs develop their idea or business. Over the course of 12 weeks, SpringGR brings people together in small groups, teaches the business process, and provides coaching. If you're interest in business coaching, visit the SpringGR website.

Michigan Good Food Fund

Michigan Good Food Fund is a $30 million public-private partnership. This loan fund provides financing to good food enterprises who are working to increase access to affordable, healthy food in low-income and underserved communities in Michigan. This includes the range of businesses that grow, process, distribute, and sell healthy food that reaches those who need it most.

They provide flexible, patient financial assistance to good food enterprises often overlooked by traditional banks. Their lending is bolstered by business assistance to help entrepreneurs grow their ventures and prepare for financing. Visit the Michigan Good Food Fund website for more information. Or give them a call at 313-300-0104.

3. Financial Assistance and Incentives

Economic Development

The City Economic Development Office can help your business with site development, expansion and location within the City. They provide information and assistance with tax abatements, site selection, Neighborhood Enterprise Zones, and redevelopment of neglected properties. Economic Development also serves as your liaison with the SmartZone, Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and the Economic Development Corporation.
 
You can learn more about these opportunities by visiting their website here. You can also call their office at (616) 456-3431 or email EconomicDevelopmentOfficeStaff@grcity.us.
 

Downtown Development Authority

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is an agency responsible for many improvements in the downtown area. The DDA promotes economic growth and encourages historic preservation within the central business district. The DDA offers incentives for building reuse, areaway (the part of the basement extending under the sidewalk) fill expenses, and streetscape improvements.
 
Take a look at their Framework Guide to Future Planning and Investment. Check out the central business district boundaries and details on pages 25, 26, and 27. More information is available by visiting their website here. You can call their office at (616) 456-3034.
 

Michigan Economic Development Corporation

The purpose of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) is to attract new businesses and keep existing businesses in Michigan. To accomplish this, they will help your business with site location, financing, employee recruiting and training, along with other resources and services.
 
Visit their website here to see what they can do for you. You can also call them at 1-888-522-0103 or email your questions to MEDCservices@michigan.org.
 

Economic Development Foundation

The Economic Development Foundation (EDF) is a Michigan non-profit organization. They're licensed to administer the Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 Loan Program. All 504 loans will also involve a lending institution, such as a bank. 504 loans give small businesses access capital at low, fixed interest rates with a 20 year term, and with only 10% down. You can use this type of loan to buy land or an existing building, or construct a building.

Learn more about the program and the EDF by clicking here. You can also call them at (616) 459-4825.

Start Garden

Start Garden is a resource for Entrepreneurs starting with new ideas, start-ups, and existing small businesses. From local entrepreneur support to 5x5 Business Pitch Night to Venture Capital investment opportunities and more, this organization can offer support in many ways. Visit the Start Garden website to learn more.

Wakestream

Our region has a history of innovation, industrial design, and manufacturing. This gives us a unique advantage in the internet of things (IoT) and technical physical product space. Wakestream is an early-stage fund with deal sizes ranging from $100K–300K in initial investment size. They will continue funding 2nd and 3rd rounds up to $1.5M cumulative. Visit the Wakestream website for more info.

Community Development Financial Institutions

Access to affordable financial products and services is important in economically vibrant communities. But at least one quarter of American households do not have a bank account. Many rely on costly payday lenders and check-cashing outlets. A lot of small businesses and critical community development projects lack access to the capital investment they need to spark economic growth in their communities. The Community Development Financial Institutions Program (CDFI Program) works to address these issues by investing federal resources, matched with private funding. They specifically target CDFI's working to serve low-income and underserved people and communities.

The CDFI Program offers both Financial Assistance and Technical Assistance to CDFI's. These competitive awards support and enhance these organizations' ability to meet the needs of the communities they serve. For more information, visit the CDFI website.

KIVA

Kiva is an international nonprofit founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco. They work to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Kiva celebrates and supports people looking to create a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities. Find more information on the Kiva website.

Capital Impact Partners

Capital Impact helps people build communities of opportunity that break barriers to success. They are a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) with a 30-year history of delivering strategic financing, social innovation programs, and capacity building. Their work creates social change and delivers financial impact nationwide. Visit the Capital Impact Partners website to learn more.

4. Location and Zoning

Location, Location, Location

Choosing the right location for your business can be a challenge. You have a lot of things to consider: What's the market size? Where's my competition located? What's the condition of the building I want to lease or buy? Could I afford to renovate or build new?
 
Taking advantage of the resources available to help you with this important decision can improve your chance for success. For help finding a location for your business, check out these great resources:

Zoning

The City has categories for property use such as residential, commercial, industrial, and a few others. To give you an idea, take a look at this zoning overview map of the City. Operating your business in your desired location involves meeting the zoning requirements and verifying the legal use of the property. In certain cases, you may need special approval or a hearing with the Board of Zoning Appeals. There are also instances of non-conforming or "grandfathered" property uses, which is why the City recommends ordering a Property Use Verification (PUV). A standard PUV delivered within 1-2 weeks will cost $203. An expedited PUV costs $355, and you'll get it back within 24 business hours. Click here to complete the online Property Use Verification form.

The full Zoning Ordinance is available for you to review, but if you have questions, contact the City Planning Department at 616-456-4100. If you'd prefer to email them, send it to planning@grcity.us.

5. Licenses, Permits and Code Compliance

City Business Licenses

Are you trying to find out if you need a license from the City? The best place to get that answer is the City Clerk's Office. They issue business licenses under the relevant provisions of the City Code for the purpose of preserving public health, safety, or welfare.

You'll find a list of license categories and the associated fees on their website. If that doesn't answer all of your questions, give them a call at 616-456-3017. You can also email grbusinesslic@grcity.us.

County Licenses and Registrations

You'll need to register your business with the Kent County Clerk's Office. You can search to see if the business name you want to use is available, as well as find the forms you need on the Kent County Clerk website. You can also call their office at 616-632-7640.
 
All food service establishments and temporary food vendors need a license from the Kent County Health Department. Click here to go directly to Food Safety Services. The phone number for the Health Department is (616) 632-7100.
 

State Licenses and Permits

The State has two great ways for you to search which license or permit you'll be required to have, if any:

Construction Permits

Depending on the site work, you'll need to have one or more permit(s) from the City. Site work includes modification to any structure (including a single wall), or to an electrical, HVAC, or plumbing system. Most of this work needs to be performed by a licensed contractor. We also recommend using a professional designer (architect or engineer) for your project. Special requirements apply in historic districts.
 
The Development Center is your one stop source for project planning, construction plan review, permitting and inspection services. Click here to visit the main page, or call the office at (616) 456-4100.
 

Fire Department Permits

Certain types of businesses need a Fire Department Operational Permit. You'll need one of these if you plan to open a restaurant, bar, or night club. Also, many industrial processing activities, and businesses involving the processing, handling, or storage of hazardous materials will need this permit. Check out the Occupational Permit Guide to find out if you need this permit. To find the application and learn more, head over to our Fire Department Permits page.
 

Separate permits are also required for:

Special Events

Complete the online application here. See the Open Flame/Candle Requirements in Assemble Occupancies here.

Fireworks

 You'll need to complete these applications:

Additionally, all businesses need to complete the Grand Rapids Fire Department Bulletin-9 Chemical Survey.

Sign Installation

If you plan to have a sign or banner placed in the City, even temporarily, you'll need a Sign Permit. You'll also need this permit if you intend to have an awning that functions as a sign. The regulations for signs are part of the City Zoning Ordinance.
 
You can apply for your sign permit online. If you have any questions, contact the Development Center by calling (616) 456-4100.
 

Use of City Owned Property

If you want to occupy the public right-of-way for construction-related purposes, you'll need a Temporary Occupancy Permit. Examples of this would be scaffolding, or placement of a dumpster or equipment.
 
If you have plans for on-going use of the public right-of-way, you will need an Encroachment Permit. Awnings, overhanging building features, and sidewalk seating are examples of on-going use.
 
You can apply for either of these permits online. If you have questions, call the Development Center at (616) 456-4100.
 

Code Compliance

The structure where you operate your business will need to meet code requirements for use and occupancy. This includes the electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems. The structure will also need meet the requirements of the International Fire Code, as adopted by the City.
 
If you want to change the use of a structure, the City requires a Change of Use permit to verify compliance. Additionally, you need to report any changes of use to the Fire Department. If you need help or have questions, you can contact the Development Center by calling (616) 456-4100.
 

Online Inspection Services

6. Utilities and Services 

Once you've found the perfect place to set up shop, you'll need to keep the lights on. These are the utility companies you'll want to contact:

Electric 

Consumers Energy is the local electric utility. Submit an online request to start service or call 1-800-805-0490.

Gas

DTE Energy is the local natural gas utility.  Submit an online request to start service or call 1-800-477-4747.

Water

Grand Rapids Water System Customer Service staff members are available to answer your questions regarding opening and closing accounts, billing and payment options, meter reading and leaks, and other water related issues. Complete the online application to start service or call (616) 456-3000. You can also visit City Hall at 300 Monroe Ave NW to start or stop your service in person.

Trash and Recycling

The City offers Pay As You Throw refuse service and free recycling within City limits. If you choose to use the City's services, complete an online application to start service or call (616) 456-3000. To start service in person, visit City Hall at 300 Monroe Ave NW.

7. Taxes and Fees

The taxes you will pay as a business owner can vary based on what type of business entity you have. You can choose to have a Sole Proprietorship, a Limited Liability Company (LLC), a General Partnership, a Corporation, along with other options. It's best to consult an attorney for help choosing what's right for you. Here you can find what types of taxes you could be paying.

Property Taxes

Real Property
 
Every year, the City Assessor calculates a tax assessment of your property. The Assessor's Office mails an Assessment Notice to the owner of the property in late January. The Notice shows the current and prior year's taxable value, and also explains the appeal process. You'll want to make sure the Assessor's Office has your current mailing address so you get your Notice on time. Keep in mind, if you lease your space, you may pay these taxes directly to the City, or to your Landlord as part of your lease agreement.
 
Personal Property
 
You may have already been familiar with Real Property tax, but you will also have Personal Property taxes as a business owner. Personal Property Assessments are based on the value of equipment and other assets you own. Every year in January, the Assessor's office mails a reminder to file your Personal Property Statement. State Law requires you to file your Personal Property Statement no later than February 20th each year. In March, the Assessor's Office mails the Assessment Notice letting you know the amount you'll pay tax on. If you don't file your Statement, the City will estimate the value of your personal property.
 
If you want to talk to someone about your property taxes, keep in mind that the City Assessor calculates the assessments, but the City Treasurer mails the tax bills and collects the payments. Call 311 or (616) 456-3000 and they'll be able to answer your questions, or get you to the right department.
 
Keep in mind that you can:
  • Look up the real property tax amounts for your property here
  • Get an estimate of what your real property taxes will be this year by using our Property Tax Estimator
  • Get help filling out your Personal Property Statement here
  • E-file your Personal Property Statement here
  • Update your mailing address here
 

City Income Taxes

Is your business address located within City limits? Do you sell goods or services within City limits? If you answered yes to one or both of these questions, you will need to pay City Income tax.

Next question, do you have employees? If you do, you will have to withhold City income tax from their paycheck.

We have the forms you need and more information available on the City Income Tax Department website. If you want to go straight to Withholding Tax forms click here.

Sales and Use Tax

As a business or an individual, if you sell tangible personal property you will need a sales tax license from the State. You can view the State's rules for sales and use tax here, and you'll also want to look at their website. If you want to talk to someone call (517) 373-3200.

State of Michigan Taxes

State business tax information is available on the Michigan Department of Treasury website. You can also call (517) 373-3200.

Federal Taxes

Visit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website for more information about federal taxes for your business. You can also contact the IRS by calling 1-800-829-1040.

8. Conclusion

Congratulations on your business! We hope you find success in your new venture. As things come up throughout your operations, keep in mind that we're here to help! Call to speak with one of our helpful customer service representatives Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM, by dialing 311 or (616) 456-3000.