Tomorrow, two Saint Louis aldermen will propose a bill that will slash the city’s business regulations. The Post-Dispatch has reported that the bill will cut more than 300 pages from the city’s business code, reduce archaic categorization, and move the city’s regulatory strategy from one of preemptive control to post-hoc nuisance mitigation. These types of changes are long overdue and could go a long way toward making Saint Louis an easier place to do business. When entrepreneurs are asked what Saint Louis can do to make itself more competitive, they often point out that navigating city regulations and obtaining business licenses is time consuming and expensive. Too often, start-ups with little capital don’t know what they need to do to start a business and ultimately face regulatory “surprises.” Making regulations understandable and affordable for entrepreneurs can make Saint Louis a place where more businesses set up and survive. How outdated is Saint Louis’ existing code? As an example, let’s look at the city’s public petition requirements for new business licenses. In Saint Louis, attempting to set up certain types of stores, regardless of zoning, requires the majority consent of local property owners. These “petition requirements” exist to protect neighborhoods from businesses that might be nuisances. These types of businesses include: arcades, billiards and pool rooms, tattoo parlors, bed and breakfasts, pawnshops, museums, junk shops, auction places, shows, theaters, dance halls, exhibitions, used goods stores, retail liquor stores, and (my personal favorite) intelligence offices. The first thing to point out is that this list of nuisance-creating establishments looks like it was written by the Music Man. Pool halls, arcades, and used goods stores do not seem like businesses that should require majority community approval. As for intelligence offices, that’s not referring to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency; it’s actually an antiquated way of referring to head hunting offices or temp agencies. It’s not good for business when the city’s code is so outdated that it not only solves problems that no longer exist, but is simply difficult to understand. Aside from being written for a different time, the very principle of petition requirements harms business formation. City zoning and nuisance ordinances already make it difficult to keep a truly community-damaging operation open. But instead of taking a hands-off approach and solving problems when they crop up, city regulations are attempts to preemptively control start-ups. In doing so, they make the city a less attractive place to set up shop. Some city leaders finally appear ready to take a more market-friendly regulatory approach. That’s good news for Saint Louis.
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About the Author
Joseph Miller was a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute. He focused on infrastructure, transportation, and municipal issues. He grew up in Itasca, Ill., and earned an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a master’s degree from the University of California-San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.