Implementing its online business hub represents a new era for the North Dakota secretary of state's office, but also a point of criticism from the 2018 election.
About 80 percent of FirstStop has rolled out since mid-January, according to Secretary of State Al Jaeger. His office has been mailing thousands of personal identification numbers for contractors and businesses to access the site — more than 200,000 letters going out in daily batches of 25,000 due to mail capacity at the state Capitol.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said Friday that more than 1,000 contractors already have used the website for license renewal.
Silrum also said the online hub — which covers business registration, license renewal and annual reports, among other functions — marks a "sea change" from mostly paper processes.
"What we have now is really going to take us to another level," Jaeger said Monday.
The longtime secretary of state took heat during the 2018 campaign for delays in FirstStop's rollout and other aspects of technology — most pointedly from Democratic-NPL nominee Josh Boschee, a Fargo lawmaker who is now the House minority leader.
Boschee said Friday he's glad to see the "long project" has "finally gotten off the ground."
"I hope that it's a successful rollout so business owners throughout the state can file their paperwork and do it in a timely manner and get on with the rest of their lives," Boschee said.
FirstStop has roots in the 2015 session, when Jaeger said funding was finally appropriated by lawmakers. Silrum said delays were due to the project's vendor underestimating the complexity of the office's functions.
Amid all that, Jaeger said he wouldn't rush the project just because of the campaign.
"This is part of what we’ve been working on for a long time, and it’s going to make a lot of difference," Jaeger said.
The project will be a foundation for a portal to several other state agencies' online functions. Silrum said other states have expressed interest in the platform, such as Montana and Idaho.
"We're actually setting a trend across the country that we believe is we're not just going to have a new system, we're going to have one of the best systems in the country," Silrum said.
FirstStop cost about $1.17 million, including $382,550 for its software license and $795,550 for software configuration, according to Silrum. The state Information Technology Department will host the software for about $5,000 a month.