Missouri Small Business Owner Exposes Problems of Local Government Permits

For many of us, the most intimate encounter we have with the government’s maze of permits is at the DMV, which also happens to be the least popular place in America. We all hate it. There will be a line. We will not receive great customer service. The processes will make little sense. At the end of the experience, we will have to pay an unforeseen number of fees, charges and taxes — likely with a service charge to use a credit card.

For business owners, it only gets worse. Americans love the idea of entrepreneurship, but the government has built an American Ninja Warrior-esque tower of bureaucratic obstacles that make it all the more difficult for small businesses to start, much less succeed. One of the most heavily permitted and regulated industries is the restaurant business, which, perhaps not coincidentally, also has slim profit margins and a notoriously high failure rate.

A resident of small-town Ozark, Missouri, unintentionally highlighted these challenges recently with a simple question to the “Answer Man” column in her local paper. The reader was curious about a new, local restaurant that displayed an “Open Soon” sign for what seemed like an eternity. The Answer Man visited the restaurant and spoke with the owners to get to the bottom of things.

Cecilia and Fernando Salcedo operated a restaurant in Los Angeles before moving to the small Missouri town to open El Avocado. When the reporter asked about an opening date, Cecilia’s response was not only saddening, but alarming.

“I don’t want to say anything. You’re a reporter. I can’t tell you. But the delay has been with the city issuing permits,” she told the Springfield News-Leader.

Unfortunately for the Salcedos, the mortgage or rent payments do not stop simply because the city is dragging its feet with permits. While the family put its savings on the line to open a business and create new jobs, the city is making it difficult — despite losing tax revenue every day the restaurant isn’t open.

While the family put its savings on the line to open a business and create new jobs, the city is making it difficult — despite losing tax revenue every day the restaurant isn’t open

Such delays are unsurprising and they happen in cities across America every day. The alarming aspect of Cecilia’s statement was that she had so little trust in the local government that she didn’t want to share details of her struggles with a reporter. She was clearly afraid of reprisals —whether in the form of further delays, arbitrary fees or nit-picky inspectors.

Even in dealing with local officials in a small town, Americans have lost faith in the government. Long gone are the days when we trusted in a government of, by and for the people. In the spirit of safety, oversight and regulation, we have an overreaching bureaucratic behemoth that slows, disrupts and discourages small businesses.

Federal regulations have increased 20 percent since 1997, according to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Economists debate the amount of drag this has had on the economy, but nearly all agree that unnecessary licensing, bureaucratic mandates and protectionist caveats to those with friends in Washington have killed jobs and reduced the competitiveness of American businesses in the international market.

The American people need to be free to do what we do best — build, innovate and adapt. Removing unnecessary barriers for small businesses is one step to help get us back on track.

Johnny Fugitt is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. His new book, The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America, chronicles his journey to 365 barbecue restaurants across 48 states in a year. You can follow him on Twitter @johnnyfugitt.