North Carolina Business Search: How to Research, Register and Name Your Company

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According to the most recent data from the US Census Bureau, there are more than 233,000 “employer establishments” in North Carolina.

That's a lot of businesses.

If you’re looking for the fastest way to search for information about North Carolina companies, the best place to start is the NC Secretary of State website.

Their Business Registration Search lets you search all North Carolina businesses by name, industry, region, size or specific keyword.

Visit the North Carolina Business Registration Search

Once you get a list of results, you can click through to get more details on individual companies, including:

  • Legal Name
  • Entity type  (Corporation, Limited Liability Company, etc.)
  • Status 
  • Registered Agent’s information – A Registered Agent is the singular point of contact for the entity should a legal or tax notice need to be sent to the business.  
  • Principal Office Address – This could be the physical address of the business or it could be an address where business records are stored.
  • Company Officials – Names of the officers and their titles.

What is a Registered Agent?

According to Legal Zoom, "An LLC registered agent is an individual or entity which has been designated by the LLC to receive service of process notices, government correspondence and compliance-related documents on behalf of the LLC." 

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Why would you need to look up a North Carolina Business?

  1. Business Research
    If you're starting a new business, looking up existing businesses in your industry can help you get a sense of the statewide competition. If you already own and operate a business in NC, it's probably a good idea just to double check the info that is made available to the public. 
  2. Business Naming
    Your new business name might already be the name of an established and successful company in another part of the state. Or maybe the name you chose is just too similar to several other companies, which might be a sign that you need to get a bit more creative.

Choosing a Name for Your New Business: What You Need to Know

Choosing the right name for you business is tricky.

But often the most difficult part isn't deciding on something catchy or creative. The naming process includes a lot of legal hoops and hurdles you need to clear before printing up business cards and building signage.

You can find some detailed advice on the NC Secretary of State page, including helpful reminders that:

  • An entity name shall not contain language stating or implying that the entity is organized for any purpose other than a purpose that is lawful and that is permitted by its formation documents. (i.e., Articles of Incorporation)
  • The name must be distinguishable upon the records of the Secretary of State from the name of any other entity on the business registry. By Administrative Code, the business entity suffix of the name (i.e., inc., LLC) is not used to determine distinguishability on the records.
  • And of course, your business name should not contain words "offensive to accepted standards of decency."

There are also certain words and phrases which are prohibited by law from being used in the name unless you have received permission from the proper legal authority.

Those words and phrases include: Bank, Banker and Banking, Cooperative, Co-op, Mutual, Trust.

The Department of the Secretary of State will also reject the following words used in names unless the applicant can provide documentation that proves his or her business entity is legally qualified to provide the service indicated:

  • Architect, Architecture, Architectural
  • Certified Public Accountant and abbreviations of such
  • Engineer, Engineering
  • Insurance
  • Pharmacy, Prescription Drug, Drug, Prescription, Rx, Apothecary
  • Realtor
  • Surveyor, Survey, Surveying
  • Wholesale 

Assumed Business Name registration is also on file with the Secretary of State which includes sole proprietorships and general partnerships. 

What is an Assumed Business Name?

"A fictitious business name, sometimes called an assumed name or DBA, short for 'doing business as,' allows you to legally do business using a particular name at minimal cost and without having to create an entirely new business entity. You can accept payments, advertise and otherwise present yourself in a business sense under this name." - Scott Allen, The Balance Small Business

You can also search business names by county with the Register of Deeds office in the county being searched.

Who is required to register when forming a North Carolina business entity?

According to the NC Secretary of State website:

"Business Corporations, Nonprofit Corporations, Limited Liability Companies (LLC), Limited Partnerships (LP), Limited Liability Partnerships(LLP or RLLP), and Limited Liability Limited Partnerships (LLLP) are required to register with the NC Secretary of State’s Office prior to conducting business in North Carolina."

Sole proprietorships or general partnerships, may have to file an assumed name certificate with the Register of Deeds Office in the county where your principal office is located.

More information on assumed names and for the forms for filing with the Register of Deeds Office.

Articles of Incorporation/Organization and Registration of a Partnership are the legal documents which must be filed in order to register a business entity with the Secretary of State in North Carolina.

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Business Entity: Choosing a Business Structure

One of the other big decisions you'll need to make before starting a business is what kind of business structure is best.

You can find guidance online for this as well.

Which type of entity is best for your business? It all depends.

There are plenty of factors from management structure to tax codes need to be considered when forming a business entity. If you're unsure or have questions, it would make sense to consult an attorney. 

The different types of business entities include:

  • Sole Proprietorship
  • General Partnership
  • Business Corporation C-Corp
  • Business Corporation S-Corp
  • Nonprofit Corporation
  • Limited Liability Corporation
  • Limited Partnership
  • Limited Liability Limited Partnership
  • Limited Liability Partnership (RLLP)
  • Professional Corporations or LLCs

Click here for a comparison chart of business structures as provided by the North Carolina Secretary of State.

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Putting the Name Into Use

After you've done your due diligence for naming your business, the next step is completing the formation documents (i.e., Articles of Incorporation, Articles of Organization or Application for Certificate of Authority) and registering the business name with the Secretary of State’s Office.

According to the NC Secretary of State site, "The filing of this document means that the chosen name is acceptable under the registration laws of North Carolina. It does not guarantee that the use of that name will not be challenged by someone who has been using a similar name and who asserts that the use of the name constitutes unfair competition."

That's why it makes sense to get all your legal paperwork in order before rushing out and spending money on stationery, swag or signage.

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