Looking to start a small business in West Virginia? You may need to obtain one or more state licenses or permits, or complete one or more kinds of state registration, as part of the start-up process. Here's a quick look at some of the main informational resources available and a few of the steps you may need to take.
The Business For West Virginia website, at business4wv.com, is run by the state government and is a central location for all sorts of business information. At a minimum, it's worth checking the following sections on the site:
Many other sections of the site, such as those related to registering your business with the state, are important, as well.
The West Virginia Small Business Development Center (WVSBDC) has guidance on how to start and grow your business. There are separate sections for new, established, and high-tech businesses. The WVSBDC also provides direct counseling to entrepreneurs and a calendar of training events for small business owners. The WVSBDC is part of a national network of small business development centers.
The national nonprofit association SCORE counsels small business owners. They have an office and workers in West Virginia. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a district office in Clarksburg. The office's website lists upcoming events, resources, and news for small businesses.
Not every West Virginia business needs a license. However, many types of business either can or must get one or more license or permits. The state government broadly distinguishes between:
Regulatory licenses and permits generally cover business activities apart from professional and occupational matters. Different agencies issue different kinds of regulatory licenses and permits. Three of the most common types of regulatory licenses and permits are those relating to health and safety, the environment, and agriculture. They may be issued by, for example, offices within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Department of Agriculture (DOA), or the Department of Environment Protection (DEP).
You can go to the Apply for Licenses/Permits section of the business4wv.com website for more details. Click on the option for "Regulatory Licenses & Permits -- By Category," which will give you a list of many of the available regulatory licenses. You can also go to the Business Assistance section of the Department of Commerce website. That section has a helpful page on business licensing.
In addition to agencies like the DHHS, DOA, and DEP, a few other state licenses are issued through the Secretary of State (SOS). (One example: scrap metal dealers.) Check the Licensing and Registrations section of the SOS website for more details.
Apart from state-issued licenses, some required licenses are issued locally. The requirements vary depending on the city or county involved. Contact the local mayor's office and the county assessor's office where your business is located for information on local or county taxes and licensing. You also can often find more details by checking the website for the relevant city or county. Some businesses may be exempt from local licensing requirements under state or federal law. Corporations, limited liability companies (LLCs), limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships organized through the SOS must also file copies of their state forms with the local county clerk's office where they're located.
Beyond obtaining required licenses or permits, some legal forms of business, such as corporations and LLCs, are required to file records with the state. More specifically, corporations, LLCs, and certain other types of business must file organizational documents with the SOS. Check the Business Structure section of the SOS website for more details.
If you're a member of any one of many professions and occupations, you'll need to be licensed by the State of West Virginia. Go to the Apply for Licenses/Permits section of the business4wv.com website for more details. Click on the option for "Professional and Occupational Licenses -- By Category," which will give you a list of the available licenses. Be aware that you may need to do a further click on "Professional Services" (or "Medical," or "Legal") before you'll see the profession or occupation you want. Each listed item links to the website for the relevant state regulatory board.
Example: Leah wants to work as a licensed manicurist. She'll need to apply for a license through the West Virginia State Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists. She can find detailed information and forms on the Board's website.
Many small businesses don't simply operate under the names of their owners. Instead, they operate under a business name. In addition, some businesses, such as corporations and LLCs, may originally register with the state under one name (sometimes called the registered name, actual name, or true name), but later choose to operate under another name. Depending on where you're doing business and how your business is structured, this alternative business name technically may be known as an assumed name, a fictitious name, a trade name, or a DBA (for "doing business as"). In West Virginia, most businesses that intend to operate under a trade name must register the name with the SOS. For additional information, check the Trade Name Registration section of the SOS website.
Example: Scott originally organized his car repair business as a West Virginia corporation named Scott's Riverbank Garage, Inc. He now wants to operate the business under the name Wheeling Wheels Foreign Auto Repair, Inc. Scott must file a Form NR-3, Application for Trade Name (DBA), including the filing fee, with the SOS.
There are separate legal definitions for trademarks, service marks, and trade names. However, speaking very generally, trademarks, service marks, and trade names are used to uniquely identify goods (products), services, or a business. This includes distinguishing a product, service, or business from potential competitors. Trademarks and service marks can be registered with the state. (This is distinct from federal registration.) You can find more information by going to the Trademarks & Service Marks section of the SOS website.
Example: Henriette wants to sell her coffee-cocoa candy bars under the name "Henry's Espresso Cocoa Buzz Bars." So—after checking to make sure the name isn't already in use—she files a Form TM-1, Application for Trademark or Service Mark, including the filing fee, with the SOS.
This article covers only the very tip of the iceberg regarding small business licenses and registrations in West Virginia. You can find much more information in the many other articles in the Small Business section here on Nolo.com. Many of those articles are part of 50-state series—so you can get plenty of information that's specific to the State of West Virginia. You can also find expanded information in many Nolo books, such as Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business, by Fred S. Steingold, and The Small Business Start-Up Kit, by Peri Pakroo.