Metro should get off small business backs

September 26, 2011 9:23AM

Beacon Center’s Justin Owen pens an article in today’s Tennessean that urges Nashville Metro Government to roll back the expansive regulatory environment it places on small businesses and entrepreneurs. by Justin Owen Nashville is a thriving Southern city. Tourists and residents enjoy the music, entertainment and other amenities the city offers. One group, however, doesn’t fare so well. Home-based business owners, street vendors and food-truck operators get tangled up in a web of restrictive laws merely trying to earn a living. Take Pat Raynor, for example. Pat is a widow who had planned to establish a small hair salon inside her remodeled garage. After meeting requirements to start her small business, Pat hit a brick wall. Nashville officials told her that she couldn’t open her salon without breaking the law. A Metro ordinance prohibits home-based businesses from serving any customers at home. The ordinance is one of the strictest in the nation. Street vendors face their own barriers to success. To become a street vendor in Nashville, one must jump through a myriad of hoops, and that’s only before facing city officials who arbitrarily enforce vague and confusing laws. One of these unlucky entrepreneurs is Tim Smith, who earns his living selling sunglasses at major events such as the annual CMA Music Festival. Tim takes painstaking efforts to comply with all the laws imposed upon him. Yet, during the 2009 festival, a codes enforcement officer arbitrarily shut down his stand. The reason? According to Tim, the officer had shut down other stands in the area, and he couldn’t justify letting Tim continue to operate there. Despite breaking no laws, Tim lost $10,000 in much-needed income. Until now, food-truck vendors were fairly free from the onerous rules imposed upon entrepreneurs like Pat and Tim. This could be why the industry has boomed, with food trucks cropping up all over Nashville. This has caught the attention of bureaucrats in the Metro Traffic and Parking Commission, who now seek to regulate these mobile entrepreneurs. Interestingly, the biggest backers of food-truck regulations are the brick-and-mortar businesses that compete with these mobile vendors for customers. This is all too often the case. As if entrepreneurs such as street vendors and home-based business owners don’t have enough to overcome, their would-be competitors team up with overzealous bureaucrats to drive them out of business. Laws such as those for nuisances and zoning already keep the peace and prevent harm to neighbors and customers alike without putting small-scale entrepreneurs out of work. Additional and unnecessary regulations like those imposed upon Nashville’s home-based businesses, street vendors and food-truck operators should be eliminated unless they directly protect the health and safety of citizens. These entrepreneurs have a right to economic liberty, to earn an honest living free from arbitrary and needless government regulations. The tough economy is already making life difficult for entrepreneurs like Pat, Tim and thousands of others like them. Nashville government should seek to help, not harm, their chances of success. Justin Owen is president and CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee (formerly the Tennessee Center for Policy Research) and co-author of “A Burdensome Tune,” a report analyzing Nashville’s regulations on local entrepreneurs;