Dan King
Dan King · May 7, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, as part of its “Cities Work” project, the Institute for Justice (IJ) released a new report explaining how to reform local regulations to help entrepreneurs thrive. The report, “From Barriers to Breakthroughs: A Practical Playbook for Reforming Local Regulations to Empower Entrepreneurs,” is the result of more than two years of on-the-ground work studying the regulatory barriers that entrepreneurs face in cities throughout the country.  

“What we’ve seen throughout the country is that it is too expensive, time-consuming, and difficult to start a business in many cities,” said Cities Work Director Jennifer McDonald. “The good news is when we raise these concerns to elected officials, they’re often open to our policy recommendations on how to make it cheaper, faster, and simpler to start a business.” 

Cities Work has collaborated with over 400 entrepreneurs across the country to learn what barriers they face in starting and sustaining a business. After working with those entrepreneurs, hearing their stories, and studying the city’s regulations, the Cities Work team then makes customized policy recommendations to elected officials.  

So far, Cities Work has met with elected officials in 34 city governments to discuss the policy issues faced by entrepreneurs, and has made customized policy recommendations to 12 of them. “From Barriers to Breakthroughs” provides step-by-step guidance to local advocates who want to replicate Cities Work’s methods in their cities. 

The new report includes specific case studies from Boston; Kansas City, Missouri; Washington, D.C.; and Fort Worth, Texas. 

One of the entrepreneurs the Cities Work team worked with, Mama Gina, opened a restaurant in Fort Worth so she could provide for herself and her husband, who is in a nursing home, and to feed people experiencing homelessness and other hardships in her community. But in order to do so, she had to navigate complex business licensing and permitting processes. 

“It was a challenge to figure out what [requirement] to do next,” said Mama Gina. “There is no real direction on how to do this. I’ve just been struggling through and moving along.” 

Since that time, Fort Worth has implemented some of Cities Work’s policy recommendations, streamlining the process and making it easier for future entrepreneurs to get started in the city.   

In addition to the policy recommendations, the report spells out some of the barriers that exist in cities throughout the country—such as rigorous zoning laws and costly permitting processes—and how advocates can organize their communities to address those barriers with local government. “From Barriers to Breakthroughs” explains how entrepreneurs can establish community partnerships within a city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, how to engage with the community at a grassroots level, how to collaborate with the city government to make meaningful change, and how to generate media buzz. 

This work was made possible by the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.