COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Businesses that need several permits to open or expand will soon have a personal guide through the red tape, the director of South Carolina's environmental agency said Thursday.
Catherine Templeton told the South Carolina Economic Developers' Association that she is creating a group of employees dedicated to assisting businesses through the permitting process.
She said businesses often require permits through separate bureaus within the Department of Health and Environmental Control, such as for air quality, water and waste. The change will allow employers to go through a single person at the agency, to save them time and frustration. She likened them to a personal banker.
"I have the most wonderfully seasoned, customer-friendly, help-you-out, keep-you-within-the-regs group of people there is. However, if you've got to talk to the fabulous person at the bureau of air and then the fabulous person at waste and the fabulous person at water, I've wasted your time," she told the group meeting in Columbia, during a 20-minute discussion titled "Help me help you."
"I want you to be able to walk into DHEC, sit down and say, 'I have a project. What do I need to do?'" she continued. "Well, you're going to need this permit and this permit. ... Let me be your personal banker, and I'll walk you through it."
Templeton, who took the agency's helm six months ago, said her idea calls for five people to be transferred within the agency, so it won't require additional money. Two people are already in training for their new role, she told The Associated Press.
The state already has liaisons between DHEC and the Commerce Department for large companies newly coming into the state, but that doesn't help existing businesses that are expanding or small businesses starting up, Templeton said.
How much time companies could save is not yet known, but it will definitely prevent headaches, she said.
"I know it's something they've been craving," she said.
Opening a restaurant, for example, involves an onsite wastewater permit because of a grease tank, possibly a septic tank, plus construction and restaurant inspections. Rather than go to the various divisions, Templeton said, a hopeful owner can go to a single person and say, 'I want to open a restaurant.'"
The Senate confirmed Templeton to lead DHEC on Feb. 28, despite concerns about her qualifications. The former head of the state's much smaller labor agency had no background in the environment or health. But the former labor lawyer said she's using her business and legal skills to make simple changes to get things done faster within the law.
Company officials have told her they can get the same permit in a week in Georgia that it takes three months to get in South Carolina. Whether the decision is a yes or no, businesses need quicker response, she said.
She encouraged those at the meeting to call her with specific problems, while she makes larger organizations changes.
"A hospital called and said, 'I can't get patient rooms open because you can't afford to pay another construction inspector to come OK it,'" she said. In researching the problem, she said, she discovered state law allows local building inspectors to conduct such checks, but agency workers hadn't known that.