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By Mark Marcoplos

Food Trucks and Protectionism

By Mark Marcoplos Posted February 17, 2012 at 3:28 pm

There are many forms of protectionism. One type protects local businesses against big corporations. Another type protects larger local businesses against local smaller upstarts. The first can be good policy that helps protect local businesses against outside market forces that have the power to dramatically alter the local business scene. The second protects some local businesses against other less wealthy local people trying to enter the marketplace.

I started out as a small “food truck” type construction company. I barely had enough money to buy the next $150 tool that I needed. Fortunately there were no onerous financial and regulatory barriers to trying to start a small construction business. Now I look around and I see young people starting out with small construction enterprises.  I see them under-charging customers because they don’t understand the real costs of doing business yet – just like I did years ago. They get jobs because of these low prices, end up losing money on many of them, and they either figure it out or they go do something else. These little operations are sometimes a minor annoyance because of their effect on the market, but how can I advocate policies that prevent some young person from giving it a shot just like I did years ago? That would be pretty elitist of me. Some of these little enterprises might grow up to be established, respected building companies that employ people and provide quality construction services. I can’t justify slamming the door behind me on the next generation of builders and remodelers just because I don’t want the competition.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how we are adopting a more business-friendly attitude and intend to make it easier to do business. There’s also the ever-present voicing of concerns that we shouldn’t let Chapel Hill turn into a town of elites that doesn’t provide housing and job opportunities for the less fortunate among us. The relatively high fees imposed on food truck businesses run counter to these sentiments.  

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