It started with a simple question.
“Would you be interested in making Fort Worth your 21st city?”
Alex Montgomery from the Institute for Justice (IJ) replied with an excited but cautious tone and said, “I’ll have to check with a few folks, but yeah, I think we can do a deep dive in Fort Worth.”
We had just seen a presentation of IJ’s Barriers to Business Report, research that compared the processes, costs, steps and bureaucracy involved in starting small businesses in 20 US cities and then provided actionable recommendations on how to make it cheaper, faster and simpler to start a business. The only city in Texas that made the report was San Antonio, which was a good comparison city for Fort Worth, but we wanted to know how our city ranked against similar peer cities.
Most importantly, this work was done from the perspective of the entrepreneur and small business owner, so all steps that a typical business would encounter were catalogued and tracked. This meant that federal, state, county and other requirements were included, but they fully recognize that the city government does not necessarily have control over all of these requirements.
Alex, and his colleague Jennifer McDonald from the Cities Work team, ultimately got a yes and IJ got to work. They began reading city codes and diving into our city’s permitting process. They began to map out the steps required to open a business in Funkytown and the costs associated with each of those steps. They talked with local small businesses owners and entrepreneurs about the struggles they faced as they opened their businesses. They traveled to Fort Worth numerous times and met with local leaders in city government to understand the various paths for permitting available to local business owners. And, they met with the city’s Small Business Committee, chaired by District 3 City Councilman, Michael Crain.
After months of work, Jennifer McDonald from IJ made the trek to Fort Worth to share the results of their work with city leaders and the local business community during Global Entrepreneurship Week North Texas in mid-November. Here’s what they found.
They found that Fort Worth did not require a general business license, which is a great thing for Fort Worth business owners.
They also scored Fort Worth’s “One Stop Shop” for opening a business as a 1 out of a possible 5. Most cities don’t get this right, but there is definitely room to improve in Fort Worth. They cited a lack of continuity between processes and city departments and a lack of clarity of next steps at many points in the process.
Due to time constraints, IJ was only able to measure one of their five business types in Fort Worth, opening a restaurant. When they looked at the processes, fees and procedures required to open an eating establishment in Fort Worth they found that:
How We Compare
It is always important to understand these numbers in context, so how does Fort Worth compare to other cities in the study? Since there were 20 other cities in the study, IJ picked a few comparison cities that were similar in size and makeup to Fort Worth.
Overall, this analysis was very well-received by those in city government, and they have vowed to continue to work with IJ to improve the process in Fort Worth. Jennifer McDonald repeatedly told us that this was only the beginning and that now the real work could begin. The overall goal is to make it cheaper, faster and simpler to start a business in Fort Worth.
The first place to start will be to take a closer look at the 63 steps required to open a restaurant business in Fort Worth. First, they will remove those requirements that the city has no control over. Then, they will identify opportunities to combine steps or streamline processes to facilitate the experience for applicants.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that more tools, people, software, etc., need to be added. IJ has found that removing barriers and streamlining processes can often have as much of an impact as anything else.
Areas to improve the “One Stop Shop” for usability will also be examined and mapped to provide more predictability in the system for applicants. Having multiple steps to register a business should be expected, but not knowing what those next steps are or where an application is in the process could be a great benefit to our entrepreneurial community.
How You Can Help
We know that Fort Worth is one of the fastest growing cities in the country – currently ranked #13 – and yet we still retain a small-town atmosphere in many ways. That can be a good thing when considering many quality-of-life aspects of living here, but this mentality makes it difficult to get things done particularly if you are an entrepreneur looking to establish a small business. By implementing the recommendations from IJ’s report, Fort Worth can not only fix these problems but make our city the easiest place in the country to start a small business.
Please feel free to respectfully comment on some of the areas you feel may need to be addressed. All comments will be collated and shared with the IJ and City of Fort Worth stakeholders that will work to implement recommendations.
The HSC Next/Sparkyard team reserve the right to not publicly publish comments that are submitted.
This post was a collaboration between Marco Johnson and Cameron Cushman.
About the Author
Marco Johnson is the Sparkyard Network Builder, a position funded by the UNTHSC. He is a Fort Worth resident and Global Citizen whose professional journey has led him to exotic, faraway locations including Eastern Europe, Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the planet Neptune to name a few. He is skilled in entrepreneurial ecosystem building, impact investing, international agricultural development, private equity finance, and fine-tuning Weber carburetors. He is a Virgo and his spirit animal is a Tesla coil. All thoughts, views, and comments are his own and do not reflect the thoughts, views, or comments of The University of North Texas Health Science Center.