OPINION: Turning ideas into reality by helping small businesses cut through red tape
The story of every small business begins with a glimmer of inspiration — that “light bulb” moment when years of work suddenly come into focus. Every entrepreneur can tell you about that feeling, and how it was followed by a surge of motivation and an obsessive desire to turn ideas into reality.
But then the hard part begins, as any successful business person will tell you. A mountain of real-world challenges suddenly crop up, starting with finding the money to actually set up shop. Then, especially in New York City, businesses must enter into a bureaucratic maze with multiple agencies that can cost thousands of dollars as inspections, licenses and permits are gathered and completed. Assuming you survive all that, there is the very sobering reality that one out of three small businesses fail within the first two years, and roughly half do not make it past five years.
With odds like these, city governments across the country have the responsibility to ask what they can be doing to support small businesses. The answer is that there is a lot cities could be doing, whether it’s investing in technology infrastructure, improving access to capital, knocking down bureaucratic hurdles or making common-sense reforms to fines and fees in ways that educate businesses but still protect consumers. These are all problems that call out for locally driven solutions.
When it comes to helping small businesses get started, the potential payoff for New York City is huge. Empowering small businesses creates jobs and helps to build a ladder to the middle class — in Brooklyn, there are more than 141,000 small businesses that employ hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Beyond serving as economic engines, small businesses are central actors in the cultural and civic fabric of our neighborhoods — they respond to the local demands for goods and services, and often become leaders in their communities.
It’s time for government to become a partner to our innovators and entrepreneurs, and that’s why I created the Red Tape Commission. The Commission, co-chaired by Bedford-Stuyvesant BID’s Michael Lambert and the Downtown Alliance’s Jessica Lappin, aims to identify the bureaucratic hurdles that are stifling small businesses, and will develop a plan for reform. The 29 Commission members come from an array of industries and backgrounds, and together have decades of experience in navigating our city’s often arcane rules and regulations.
Founded on the belief that no one knows more about the needs of small businesses than business owners themselves, the Red Tape Commission is holding a hearing in every borough to learn directly from small business owners about their challenges, needs and ideas to inform concrete recommendations. Today’s entrepreneurs are laying the foundation for our economic future, and they can help us to look ahead at what the new wave of our city’s economy should look like.
My Commission and I are headed to Brooklyn this Friday, the borough that had the highest number of small business loans in the city in 2013. I hope to hear from all entrepreneurs — those in tech, services, food and hospitality, retail and media — about what drives their passion, and also what drives them crazy when it comes to city regulations. If you are someone who has ever launched an idea, we are coming to listen and to learn how to make New York City a better place for your business to succeed.
Comptroller Stringer’s Red Tape Commission Brooklyn hearing will take place on Friday, Oct. 16 at 8:30 a.m. at Brooklyn Law School. To RSVP, and for more information, visit the website: http://comptroller.nyc.gov/redtape/
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