After her husband was laid off, Brandy McMorris started offering hair braiding services in the basement of her North Omaha home. She advertised on Craigslist and quickly built a loyal list of clients. She wanted to go into business full-time, so she contacted the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to learn about the process.
“I found out that braiding hair without a license was illegal,” Brandy said. It was a felony, actually, and she could only continue braiding if she took 2,100 credit hours of unrelated cosmetology school training, which can cost up to $20,000.
Many small business people would understandably be intimidated by a government official ordering them to cease and desist. But not Brandy McMorris. She had survived greater struggles in her life, once overcoming homelessness after living in the foster care system during her teenage years.
Rather than giving up on her dream, Brandy went to the Nebraska Legislature to support a bill deregulating her industry. And she won. Starting in July 2016, Nebraska will change from having the country’s highest burden for starting a hair braiding business to being one of 12 states that do not require a license to enter the profession.
Brandy is excited to open a salon where she can help other braiders use their skills to earn a better living.
Luke French and his wife Karen own a banquet hall in Malcolm, just outside Lincoln. They host and cater weddings, receptions, reunions, and parties. Luke’s specialty is an awesome Italian beef sandwich with Chicago-style Giardiniera. His customers gave his food positive reviews, so he decided to grow his business by opening a food truck called “Curbside Catering.”
But the City of Lincoln had other plans.
An outdated parking ordinance intended to keep ice cream trucks on the move prevents food truck operators like Luke from setting up shop in public parking spots in the city. Changes to the ordinance have been resisted by established restaurant groups, who don’t want to the competition.
But cities that turn down these new, popular businesses are doing so at their own peril. The National Restaurant Association estimates that the food truck industry will generate $2.7 billion in annual revenue by 2017, and cities that offer more choices with growing food truck scenes tend to attract more customers for both mobile and brick and mortar dining.
That’s why in Omaha, local leaders have used a more tolerant application of parking rules, allowing food trucks to be parked in the city as long as they keep the parking meter as well fed as their willing customers. Some other restaurants still don’t like it, though.
Back in Lincoln, Luke was limited to selling his food in private parking lots and at occasional events. City regulations effectively kept him from doing business where his customers were. You can still visit Curbside Catering’s Facebook page to see where Luke thanked his customers for their support and called an end to his food truck enterprise due to Lincoln’s lack of food truck friendliness.
“We ended up selling the truck on the same website that we bought it from,” Luke said. “A guy in Missouri found it, they have better regulations down there, and as far as I know he’s doing fantastic,” he said.
Stories of entrepreneurs like Brandy and Luke show that many burdensome regulations often do nothing to protect the public and only limit customer choices and job opportunities in our communities. Sometimes a regulatory barrier that seems small can make growing an entire new industry impossible for countless Nebraskans.
These two small business people aren’t alone, either. The Pacific Research Institute’s rankings of state occupational licensing found Nebraska to be among the most onerous in the country, ranking 44th, while Nebraska’s lack of comprehensive licensing reforms have been estimated to cost the average Nebraska household $942 a year.
Barriers to jobs are created when legislation, ordinances, and regulations are approved without considering less harmful alternatives.
It’s time for hardworking Nebraskans to band together to demand that regulation be subject to a regular review process that prioritizes the least burdensome policies over approaches that are putting people out of work.
The Platte Institute is proud to stand with working people across our state in our new efforts to remove the barriers to growth and opportunity in their lives. By consistently protecting and expanding the right to earn a living, we can all help put the Good Life within reach for more Nebraskans.