Regulating the Entrepreneur’s Dream: Jason Duff’s Main Street Story

At 17, Jason Duff became a real estate investor by purchasing a vacant community bank building and working to repair the property and recruit another business to fill it. It worked. The property became a magnet for local job creation. Today, the sum total of regulations his companies have to satisfy make it harder and more expensive to do business.

Most men remember where they learned to tie a tie. I certainly do. It was at a small men’s clothing store in downtown Bellefontaine, OH. I was just around 13 years old, but mastering the Half Windsor made me feel like I’d taken one huge step toward adulthood. 

That store closed its doors about 15 years later. And many other Main Street businesses did the same. Times were changing; demands were shifting; people thought a downtown resurgence wasn’t really possible.

I wasn’t one of them. I believed then what I do now, that Main Street is the heart of a community. It represents a community’s past and is a strong indicator of its economic future—something I credit my parents and grandparents, both of whom were small business owners, for impressing on me. 

So at the ripe old age of 17, I became a real estate investor. I purchased a vacant community bank building in Lakeview, Ohio and set to work repairing the property and recruiting another business to fill it. It worked. It became a magnet for local job creation and prompted, in earnest, my first Main Street revitalization project.

Today, undertaking “transformational economic development projects,” as I like to call them, is just one facet of my work as a small business entrepreneur. I own several other companies—all based in Logan County, Ohio—and I have about 40 local residents who work with me.

I can honestly say I love what I do. I love that every day I have the ability to solve problems and tackle challenges. But there are some small business realities that are making the dream of entrepreneurship harder for those of us already in operation and more distant for the men and women hoping to join our ranks. The government’s regulatory system is part of that problem. And just to be clear, it’s not a one party problem.

Today, the sum total of regulations my companies have to satisfy make it harder and more expensive to do business. It’s obvious even in the amount of government paperwork we receive in the mail.

Government regulations affect access to capital, they determine the types of paint businesses can have on their walls and how wide each of our door frames must be. They touch almost every aspect of small business operations and hiring and have a terrible tendency to be one-size-fits all. Saying regulations are complex is an understatement. They’re constantly changing and a lot of the time, I feel like a decoder ring is needed to figure out what the government really wants me to do to satisfy its rules. Instead, I’m left to scour the internet.

Companies that can afford to keep teams of lawyers on retainer and have entire departments focused on human resources or regulatory compliance—are automatically operating at an advantage. The resources and lobbying power of small businesses like mine pale in comparison, even though we’re the ones who are much more sensitive to the true costs associated with the rules and regulations handed down from Washington.

Since harm is not the intent of these rules, I encourage decision-makers in government to invite small businesses to be at the table when regulations are being formed and to designate liaisons who can help educate and navigate small businesses through the compliance process. If we’re able to collaborate throughout the process, we can remove some of the senseless barriers, including regulations that are outdated or just aren’t working, that are forcing many small businesses to cut back and close their doors. If we can have a clearer picture of what regulations are going to require of us in the years ahead we’ll be able to better plan for the future and make long-term investments to grow and hire.

In this country, people actually have the opportunity every day to live and fulfill their dreams. Americans should be able to make the most of that opportunity, and their government—through its broken regulatory system—should not be what stands in the way.

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