A study of small business in Fort Worth is expected to indicate areas where the city can improve access and ease the barriers many entrepreneurs face getting their businesses off the ground.
The nonprofit organization, Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, released a report in February that looked at 20 large and mid-sized cities in the U.S. The report examined local regulations for starting businesses. The study focused on what barriers entrepreneurs face, best (and worst) regulatory practices, how city officials can reform current rules and how much small businesses must pay to get up and running.
That report did not initially include Fort Worth, but the organization is currently gathering data and expects to present it to city and business leaders later this year.
Cameron Cushman, assistant vice president, innovation ecosystem at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth, came across the initial report, “Barriers to Business: How Cities Can Pave a Cheaper, Faster, and Simpler Path to Entrepreneurship” and reached out to the organization about adding the city to the study. The Institute for Justice funded the study and there is no cost to the city for the study.
“They agreed to look at Fort Worth’s processes and they hopped on a plane to come down here,” said Cushman.
Officials from the Institute for Justice presented some initial findings to the Fort Worth City Council’s Small Business Committee in July. The Small Business Committee was set up to look at issues relating to small businesses in the city.
Jennifer McDonald, assistant director of activism special projects at the Institute for Justice, was one of the presenters.
One area where the nonprofit’s initial research showed Fort Worth could use improvement is in providing a one-stop shot detailing the steps needed for small businesses and entrepreneurs to set up businesses.
The initial assessment of the city’s website for small business noted that it was easy-to-navigate and provided informative guides on zoning and permitting, but there are insufficient step-by-step guides on starting a business.
She noted there was a great tool on the site – the city of Fort Worth Permit Assist – but it is buried on the site
“Fort Worth scored a 1 out of 5 on providing an easy way for entrepreneurs to set up a small business,” said McDonald. “This can be an easy step to remedy because it doesn’t take legislation to improve by offering or changing a website to offer those steps needed.”
Cushman said those kinds of barriers for an entrepreneur or small business owner can be frustrating.
“It is really hard for an entrepreneur because they don’t always know what city department they need and maybe it’s in the same place and maybe it’s not,” he said.
That kind of confusion can hamper a small business particularly in the early stages, Cushman said.
“To be able to have someone say, ‘Here’s what you need to be doing,’ would be a real tool for us,” he said.
Sometimes, Cushman said, the institute doesn’t recommend adding new processes or programs to aid entrepreneurs and small businesses.
“On our initial call with them they said that they’ve had better luck when people streamline stuff, when they remove barriers,” he said. “I thought that was very astute, that you don’t have to add stuff or incur new expenses. Taking stuff away can be just as effective.”
Michal Crain, Fort Worth City Councilman for District 3 and a member of the Small Business Committee, said he believes the council will take some actions as a result of the final report.
“So my hope is that what comes back out of this process, from the report, will be substantive policy changes that can make it easier, or suggestions of things that we can do,” he said.
To provide input on the report:
Assistant Director of Activism Special Projects
Institute for Justice
703-682-9320, ext. 216
Seth Bodine contributed to this report.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.