Cities Work is dedicated to helping cities lay the groundwork for a vibrant small business ecosystem. By working in tandem with city councils, our goal is to build a shared understanding of each city’s needs and challenges. Using these insights, we develop comprehensive strategies for regulatory reform that meet their unique specifications.

Through this approach we believe we can help cities realize their potential as thriving hubs of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.

To learn more about how Cities Work meets the individual needs of each community and what a partnership with us could look like, check out the District Works timeline below.

District Works: What a Partnership With Cities Work Could Look Like

Cities Work is a nationwide expansion of “District Works,” our initiative dedicated to working with Washington, DC’s small business owners to identify key barriers to economic opportunity. A top priority identified among many barriers was the District’s unnecessarily complicated and costly business licensing and start-up process. Partnering with small business owners, District council members, and other stakeholders, we achieved a series of reforms that make it cheaper, faster, and simpler to start a small business. 

Here is an abbreviated timeline of activity in DC to get an inside look at what a partnership with us could look like. 

Day 1

Began outreach to small businesses via door-to-door canvassing and roundtables in Washington DC. 

Hosted an event on cutting red tape for small businesses, featuring the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) and the Washington Area Community Investment Fund. 

Testified before the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) about DC’s small business regulations. 

Met with a DC councilmember to discuss lowering fees for business licenses. 

Met with the director of DSLBD and presented at a DSLBD roundtable. 

Testified before the DC Council Committee of the Whole at a DCRA oversight hearing.  

Presented our work on business licensing in DC to a group of 35 restaurant owners.  

Hosted two small, informal entrepreneur roundtables. 

Launched “District Works,” a coalition of entrepreneurs, policymakers, and advocates. 

Published a flowchart detailing the complex process of starting a business in DC. 

Introduced legislation to ease the restrictions on home-based food businesses. 

Testified at DCRA oversight hearings and met with more stakeholders.  

Met with the office of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. 

Presented to DCRA, which agreed to launch a regulatory reform package based on our recommendations.  

Introduced “collateral consequences” legislation to prohibit automatic disqualification for occupational licenses if the applicant has an unrelated criminal history. 

Partnered with the Latino Economic Development Center to co-host a workshop on how to start a home-based business. 

The home-based business bill was signed by the mayor. 

Testified at a hearing in support of the collateral consequences bill. 

Released Blueprint for Business, a report detailing the cost, time, and complexity of starting a business in DC and respective opportunities for reform based on the findings. 

Created and launched ShopInPlaceDC, an online resource to connect consumers with DC mom-and-pop businesses still open for business during the pandemic. 

Participated in a DCRA regulatory working group. 

Featured in a Mother Jones story on barriers to entrepreneurship authored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. 

DCRA announced they would implement 8 of our 10 recommendations for reforming business regulations in DC. 

The collateral consequences bill was signed by the mayor. 

Introduction of BEST Act

Partnered with a DC Councilmember to introduce the Business and Entrepreneurship Support to Thrive (BEST) Act: A bill authored by the IJ team which would narrow the number of business licensing categories from over 100 to 11, reduce fees for new business licenses to $99, reduce renewal fees, and eliminate fees for businesses earning less than $10,000 annually. 

Testified in favor of the mayor’s proposed reductions to business licensing fees. 

Testified before the DC Council Committee of the Whole in support of the BEST Act. 

January 2023

The BEST Act was approved and signed by the mayor.  

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Cities Work is an initiative of the Institute of Justice’s Activism team.