Small businesses make up the backbone of the American economy, and in no place is this more apparent than Ohio. There are nearly one million small businesses in our state. More than two million of us — one-fifth of Ohio’s population — are employed by small businesses. We have some of the highest numbers of self-employed workers, including women and veterans, in the country. The ability of small and independent businesses to start here and grow is crucial to the economic health of our state, our communities and workers themselves. But there’s a regulatory barrier we need to address.
Government regulations have a direct impact on the ability of independent businesses to keep the lights on, make payroll and create new Ohio jobs. The regulatory process in Washington should be designed to serve the public and keep people safe in a thriving economy. Instead, it is characterized by moving goalposts, complicated paperwork and overwhelming compliance costs — the sort that can make a small business go under and intimidate others away from business ownership altogether. Large corporations can survive in this environment. They have the resources — and lawyers — needed to absorb losses in time and money. Not every small business can.
Personally, I’ve been a Logan County entrepreneur since I was 17. I now own four local businesses and employ almost 40 people, including various subcontractors. In my own experience, navigating and complying with regulations is the single biggest challenge I face as a small business owner. I know I’m not alone in this and I know it can’t be what our lawmakers intended.
To highlight this problem and bring real solutions to the forefront, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council and the National Association of Manufacturers, along with a number of other organizations working on behalf of small businesses, just launched a program called Rethink Red Tape. The point of the program isn’t to advocate for more or less regulation, it’s to encourage smarter regulation overall. And that’s because every government rule — covering issues as large as health care to matters as small as building paint — comes with a cost to small businesses, which is something many people in Washington never consider.
Part of the problem with the status quo when it comes to regulation is that small businesses don’t have enough of a voice in the regulatory process. Lawmakers and regulators create rules that end up hitting us harder than other companies because they don’t have our on-the-ground insights or practical experience informing their work. To make this right, Republicans and Democrats need to make regulatory reform a priority and commit to involving actual small business professionals consistently throughout the regulatory process.
Decision-makers in Washington need to invite small businesses to the table when regulations are being formed. Then, once regulations are approved, they need to designate liaisons who can help educate and navigate entrepreneurs through the compliance process. Through this sort of collaboration, we can remove some of the barriers that discourage investment and growth in our communities and put both employers and workers in a better position to plan for the future.
The American dream rests on the premise that people like you and me, through hard work and a little luck, will always have the ability to seize opportunity and realize our goals. Our government, through its broken regulatory system, should not be what stands in the way of that dream.
Jason Duff is a Logan County native and champion of local main street revitalization projects. As a member of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, his story helped launch the new Rethink Red Tape bipartisan regulatory reform project. Visit www.rethinkredtape.com to learn more about the program.