I believe government should be a partner, not an obstacle, to small business owners and entrepreneurs. But today they’re being crushed under the weight of more than 6,000 rules, 250 licenses and permit requirements, and 15 City agencies that tie them up in Red Tape.
We make them run an obstacle course that, frankly, defies belief.
That why last year I created the Red Tape Commission, a group of 31 experts that held public hearings in all five boroughs. We heard directly from small business owners, and also conducted an online survey of almost 300 entrepreneurs.
The result is the most comprehensive, bottom-up review ever compiled of the bureaucratic maze that owners navigate in New York City and its stifling impact on business.
The results were shocking:
• Small business owners face a painfully slow approval processes before they can open their doors. Nearly 30 percent of small businesses said it took six months or longer to get all the approvals they needed from the city to open for business, and 13 percent said it took more than a year.
• Too many small business owners report being treated unfairly. Nearly half of all business owners surveyed said they did not feel that they had been treated fairly by city inspectors, and more than 57 percent said agency inspectors had failed to adequately communicate expectations and requirements.
• City government is too inaccessible. Nearly 40 percent of small businesses surveyed said they found it necessary to hire a private “expeditor” to navigate city bureaucracy, but more than half said spending the extra money was neither helpful nor effective.
• Business owners are frustrated. Asked to identify their single greatest frustration with city government, fines and inspections were cited by 20 percent of respondents as the most common complaint, followed by agency response times (18 percent) and high taxes and fees (17 percent).
In our hearings, we heard stories that made this data come alive. Take the case of Meredith Phillips Almeida and the businesses she represents along the Myrtle Avenue business corridor as president of the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership.
Meredith told the Commission that too many small businesses have suffered as a result of insufficient notice of issues related to major construction on the Avenue.
Meredith’s story is just one more reason why it’s time to take a sledgehammer to the bureaucracy and start over. Our commission made 60 recommendations, including:
• City government needs to be accessible to small businesses, which is why the city should end the use of “expeditors” and instead create Small Business Advocates in relevant city agencies.
• The city must improve services for limited English proficiency New Yorkers, including making better use of translation services and putting more training materials, including videos, online in more languages.
• The city needs to make it easier for business owners to comply with the law. For instance, the Department of Health should make it easy for business owners to comply with regulations, instead of making them pay $400 to do so.
• Make better use of technology, including allowing applicants to track a permit throughout the approval process in real time and make wider use of electronic filing for permit and license applications.
• To help the business owners like those along Myrtle Avenue, the commission proposed requiring the city work more closely with local businesses when planning and implementing major construction projects, including providing real time updates on the projects’ progress and expected completion.
It’s time for government to do its job. We need to cut the red tape once and for all, and give business owners the support they need to keep our city growing for everyone.
Scott M. Stringer is the comptroller of the City of New York.