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Cutting "small business red tape" a good sign in MA

Posted by Jason Keith  March 9, 2012 09:00 AM

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Did you know  that if you run a hair salon in the state of Massachusetts and you want to pass ownership to an employee, the store would have to close down while paperwork is filed, then re-opened, according to state regulations?  Or that a funeral home director is only allowed to hire full-time apprentices, rather than part-time? How about that fisherman have to cite “catch totals” for sea bass at the end of each year. That’s right, sea bass. 

Like many, you’re probably asking yourself how these seemingly ridiculous regulations came to be in the first place. Unfortunately no one, not even Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, has a good sense of why. But on the bright side, the governor is taking active steps to eliminate these and other regulations that have been deemed unnecessary barriers to economic growth, especially for small business owners. 

Earlier this week the governor announced a plan to eliminate or update 150 state regulations seen as a hindrance, along with a plan to review 1,000 by year’s end and 2,000 by 2013. Spurred by the external perception that Massachusetts is a heavily regulated state and one that isn’t overly friendly to businesses, large and small alike, the question now is will these small changes gain momentum? Will they actually help small businesses streamline their business practices? 

"We're certainly aware that there is an external reputation outside of Massachusetts that maybe we're heavily regulated, and that's bad for business," said April Anderson Lamoureux when announcing the measure. As the state's assistant secretary for economic development, the governor has tabbed her with overseeing the project. 

Skeptics will call this a symbolic move, something done for public relations purposes more than anything else, and that the effect will be minimal in the grand scheme of things. That’s a shortsighted view. As we’ve seen many times in government, big changes rarely happen due to bi-partisan strife, so small changes typically need momentum to build over time and eventually have a big impact. Small business owners across the state are hoping that these pending reviews will eliminate a regulation that directly impacts them and ultimately make running a business easier. 

An additional step the governor is taking with this initiative is to require any new regulation be put through a "small business impact" statement, answering 20 questions before getting approval. Questions include, "Is this likely to encourage or deter the formation of business?” and “Who did you consult from the small business community to come to this conclusion?" It seems like common sense, but clearly little of that has been applied by local government, with over 2,000 regulations to be reviewed in the next two years for relevancy and accountability. Review is one part of the process, but “cutting the head off the snake” is also vital to stem the tide, so to speak.

There’s no downside for small businesses here, who have long cited that in order to succeed, they need government to get out of the way, rather than actively trying to help. A complicated tax code, over regulation, lack of insight into the rules and laws governing them and the multiple barriers to starting a business have all been cited as reasons why small business growth is stunted. Many times, small businesses simply don’t want to deal with the rules that come with growth or expanding into a bigger business. Others don’t even know where to start when it comes to opening a business, or once they find out, decide against it. 

Symbolic or not, this is a positive sign for small businesses in the bay state. And as more antiquated regulations come to light, hopefully the spotlight will continue to shine on this issue.  The question now is, what regulations would you like to see reversed or refined? Do any come to mind that are hindering your ability to run your small business? Please feel free to share them in the comments section. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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