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Fixing a city that still doesn’t work well

Tuesday, Mar 24, 2015

* Crain’s published an op-ed today that has some advice for whomever is elected Chicago’s mayor: Help small businesses start and grow. Here are a few of their suggestions, which are all pretty good..

Create easy-to-find checklists for license and permit applications. Entrepreneurs often have to spend hours waiting in City Hall only to be told they do not have all the paperwork they need to receive a license or permit.

Treat minor regulatory infractions with a friendly warning rather than a fine. Today, a first-time offense means a fine that runs in the hundreds of dollars, and often an administrative hearing that requires expensive legal support.

Reduce the administrative hearings that require businesses to spend money on legal representation. Chicago has an online system to deal with minor traffic violations like red-light tickets, but none for minor business violations. When business owners get a ticket, they must appear before the Department of Administrative Hearings and then sometimes appear again before the Department of Business Affairs, even when the ticket has been dismissed […]

Simplify signage and awning rules. Chicago should have a one-step online application for sign and awning permits. Today, the entire City Council votes on each signage request and on every awning that hangs over the public way. Furthermore, a bonded sign-erector is required to put up every sign.

Foster home businesses. Don’t outlaw the next Jeff Bezos. Let home businesses operate in garages so long as they don’t disturb the neighbors or impact the environment. Repeal the prohibition against home businesses hiring more than one employee, especially for remote employees. And end the restriction on selling homemade products outside of the home.

Make it quick to start up. It takes 32 days to start a professional-services business in Chicago. In Phoenix, an online system gets businesses through permitting and licensing in one day.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - 100 Miles West - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 8:14 am:

    My sister-in-law tried to open a business in the city. She gave up after dealing with the sign issue and the constant wave of city inspectors.

  2. - PublicServant - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 8:20 am:

    I’m all for speeding up, and easing the paperwork and expense associated with starting/maintaining a small business in Chicago.

  3. - james the intolerant - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 8:33 am:

    I thought Rahm reformed this, one of his specific initiatives.

  4. - Henry Moon - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 8:36 am:

    Sign and awning permits? Probably the tip of the Byzantine nightmare of city regulation, ‘who sent ya’, and ‘inspectors’. Not to mention the possibilities that this can all be eased by ‘donations’.

  5. - Wordslinger - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 8:37 am:

    Those are all good.

    The problem is most of them intrude on the baronial prerogatives of aldermen, which are a millstone around the neck of small business.

    The Faustian bargain has been a large city council with loads of perks and ward power but no ability for an alderman to build a citywide base to challenge a mayor.

    What’s the use of a highly paid city council that routinely just rubber stamps mayoral dictates? It’s hardly a legislative body.

    But businesses have to kiss the rings, or worse, of aldermen to operate in tneir wards. It’s anachronistic and stifling.

    And we all know the tried-and-true method of making all those annoying problems go away.

    Chicago would be better served and more democratic with a smaller city council with aldermen stripped of their historic, but not statutory, ward powers.

  6. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 8:51 am:

    My Chicago roots go back to the Civil War era. Germans, Dutch and Irish immigrants moving to Pullman, Roselawn, Bridgeport and Beverly. We have a strong family history as Chicago firemen, policemen, factory workers, deliverymen, taxi drivers, and restaurant owners. This month, the last relative sold her Chicago home and left. I have one cousin left in a suburb and an aunt and uncle left in Barrington Hills. That is it. Hundreds of people, hundreds of Chicagoans, loving the City and then leaving for good. We are leaving behind cemetery plots with our loved ones names on them.

    Chicago got too expensive. The schools weren’t safe. My uncle’s stores were robbed too often, driving insurance rates through the roof. The neighborhoods lost their homogeneity. Chicago became a place to rent while single, but not a place to put down roots and raise a family.

    The City fell in love with mega corporations. It was easier to cater to a handful of rich families, than it was to tend to entrepreneurs. It was easier to curb competition to keep the rich families happy, than it was to even the playing field for the next generation of rich families.

    Chicago ran out of generations. In April, our long 150 year family love of Chicago as our home, comes to an end. My family DNA will linger longer than our addresses, but the folks who worked, loved and lived for Chicago are now in Atlanta, Denver, Boston, St. Petersburg, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Kona.

    They are all good people doing good work in those cities, instead of in Chicago. Elected officials, civil servants, small venture capitalist, business owners and that is just what they offered professionally and doesn’t include the invaluable societal and family support which comes along with good families.

    I want the City to keep succeeding. It needs to rekindle new generations of good families who will make it their home for the next 150 years or more. The Mayor needs to make Chicago a family home again. Good luck.

  7. - OneMan - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 8:58 am:

    Also reduce the LLC fee in the state.

  8. - Gantt Chart - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 9:10 am:

    Vanilla Man, I don’t always agree with your point of view in these comments, but your post above is one of the most eloquent, touching things I’ve read here in a long time. I will cut and copy it to save.

  9. - A guy - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 9:24 am:

    These are great suggestions. Adopt all of them. They could even go a little further when it comes to the ridiculous numbers of inspections and fines. Some of these (non-emergency) inspections which result in citations could offer more grace time to meet compliance. Often special trades are required to repair problems and times can be impractical as can be the cost.

    This is heading in the right direction. The unintended tax of doing business in the city is remarkably high.

  10. - hisgirlfriday - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 9:33 am:

    If Rauner and his fake dem front really want to make this state better for business addressing the concerns of this article and prodding Rahm and all locals to be more small biz friendly seems a lot more productive for the future of this state than union busting.

  11. - walker - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 9:38 am:

    See Wordslinger 8:37 above.

    The Mayor, and his departments, just cannot tell the Alderman “No” on all their prerogatives and powers, and start efficiently issuing licenses and making reasonable exceptions, without risking a “No” in return on his budget.

    It’s changing, but slowly.

  12. - Left Leaner - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 9:43 am:

    Wordslinger and VanillaMan hit the mark. So does the Crain’s op-ed.

    The city that works is failing to do so more and more. We want the tech innovators to come here, but we stifle entrepreneurs with bad business policies and 50 alderman stuck in the old ‘way things are done’.

  13. - Biker - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 9:43 am:

    Makes perfect sense.

  14. - Chris - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 9:57 am:

    “Not to mention the possibilities that this can all be eased by ‘donations’.”

    It’s not via ‘donations’ any more–it’s via ‘expediters’. Give the expediter $700, then he can get the clerk to use the computer system in front of his face to confirm that your taxes are paid, and you can renew your business license. Don’t, and then you have to know that you have to go to the other office to get your paid receipt and then bring it back to the first clerk who will then (grudgingly) confirm payment on his computer and renew your license.

    They created a tier of middlemen to lessen the threat of accusations of bribery, but the expediters (*usually*) are nothing more than bagmen for bribery.

  15. - Abe the Babe - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 10:07 am:

    It’s always refreshing when the terms “red tape” or “burdensome regulations” are specifically outlined.

    Good ideas. But Word rightly points to the bigger problem.

  16. - Juvenal - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 10:28 am:

    Companion legislation amending the Condominium Act to prevent condo associations from barring home businesses would be needed.

    I understand associations not wanting someone to run a retail businesses out of their home.

    But why not a graphic design businesses or other wide range of options?

    It is crushing entrepreneurism.

  17. - Em - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 10:29 am:

    I don’t always agree with Vanillaman, in fact I’ve been offended by his statements on a few occasions…BUT I definitely agree with his above statement. We are moving out of Chicago in May, it is way too expensive and not to mention risky to start a family here.

  18. - JS Mill - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 10:49 am:

    All reasonable and needed. Small business was one of the cornerstones of our success. Why are we making it so hard, especially when every politician wants to “grow jobs”?

  19. - Not it - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 10:51 am:

    How about getting the local Alderman out of the picture for every tiny business decision including the color of a sign, the type of flowers, or number of chairs in a bar? All of those stipulations are just an opportunity for an Alderman to squeeze a business owner. Makes no sense other then to perpetuate Chicago’s culture of corruption.

  20. - From the 'Dale to HP - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 10:55 am:

    The problem is the aldermen on this issue specifically. Chicago’s just a somewhat modernized medieval fiefdom.

  21. - Not it - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 11:09 am:

    Alderman are so busy squeeZing every business in their ward that they dont have time to worry about public policy issues, like parking meter lease agreements or the city budget.

  22. - Tommydanger - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 11:21 am:

    All are great ideas except I would modify the home business one to at least include a listing of some home businesses that would be presumptively incompatible with a residential neighborhood, i.e. automobile repair.

  23. - Tommydanger - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 11:24 am:

    Vanilla Man:

    Just read your post @ 8:51.

    Well said in all respects. Thanks for sharing.

  24. - Wordslinger - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 11:33 am:

    VMan, today’s Chicago is getting a lot like some of the other mega metro-economies of the world — New York, London, Hong Kong — where the central core is reserved for the super-wealthy, while the near outer neighborhoods are for the working poor who serve them.

    You have people dropping $17 million on a condo in Trump Tower. I don’t care what your counter-tops are made of, that’s quite a market premium to be at State and the River.

    Must really like Rossi’s.

  25. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 11:44 am:

    ===Must really like Rossi’s. ===

    I was in there a few months ago. Don’t think I saw any 0.1 percenters hanging out.

  26. - Wordslinger - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 12:00 pm:

    Rich, Rossi’s charms are lost on some. That front door can be pretty intimidating to the uninitiated. “Will I get stabbed?” is a frequent question of first-time visitors that I’ve taken there. The Goat is the dive bar of choice for the rich and famous.

    Although Dez the bartender told me many years ago that George Dunne used to pop in Rossi’s most mornings for an eye opener on the walk from his condo to the county building.

    An understandable bracer if you’re likely to deal with Andy Shaw every day.

  27. - CLJ - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 1:04 pm:

    The Alderman are at the center of the problem. I ran a project to obtain “public way” permits (signs and awnings) for a national retailer. One specific alderman (#14) required that their precinct captain sign off on the permit request before the alderman would. Most of the “captains” didn’t even live in the ward let alone the neighborhood where the business was located. Other aldermen would simply sit on the applications for weeks if not months before acting. Not only do they need to sign the permit application they need to introduce an ordinance to move the permit forward. That is one little aspect of how alderman can get in the way of business.

    The administration is not that much better. There are few, if any at this point, that have real business experience that understand what’s needed to open or run a business. There has been an effort that stretches back under Daley to improve the processes but the keep putting the wrong people in charge. There are plenty of good examples of how other cities work, but its just not the Chicago Way of doing things.

  28. - Levois - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 1:23 pm:

    Whatever changes are proposed to these city regulations, I hope that there are considerations for those minority entrepreneurs who seek to open and grow a business in Chicago. Vanillaman, I really liked your comments about your long family ties to the city. Things change unfortunately but you’re right the city also needs to change with them so that Chicago can continue to thrive.

  29. - Ghost - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 2:41 pm:

    Simplified signage rules…. someone just declared war…..

  30. - Juvenal - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 3:34 pm:

    Rich -

    There are plenty of .01 percenters in Rossi’s.

    Just from the other end of the spectrum.

  31. - Chicago Bars - Tuesday, Mar 24, 15 @ 4:29 pm:

    I had a highly germane well supported point about the number of trees that seemingly must die before most City permits can issue.

    But much more importantly after reading all the comments…. Rossi’s is a fantastic bar.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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