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Small businesses air gripes at Office of Advocacy roundtable

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When commercial fisherman Brick Wenzel had to reapply for his aquaculture permit four years ago, the application ballooned from three pages to 127.

“I was told it went to 127 pages was to come into compliance with federal regulations and qualify for grant opportunities,” he said.

Due to the time-prohibitive change in the application, New Jersey has since lost multiple aquaculture participants, he said.

According to Wenzel, the commercial fishing industry has to answer to 11 different federal offices, and overregulation has put undue pressure on the industry. He was one of 10 small businesspeople who spoke up at the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Regulatory Roundtable held at the Crown Plaza in Princeton on Tuesday.

Business owners like Wenzel are attending these roundtables across the country to discuss how federal regulations hinder small business growth. The Office of Advocacy began holding these roundtables in June 2017 as a result of executive orders that instructed federal agencies to eliminate two regulations for every new one created and create a regulatory reform task force to eliminate unnecessary regulations.

Among the members of the Office of Advocacy in attendance were Major Clark III, acting chief counsel of procurement and small business; Claudia Rodgers, senior counsel and contact for general regulatory matters; Bruce Lundegren, assistant chief counsel of safety, transportation, and security; and others. What they heard were complaints about mountains of paperwork, conflicting regulations, and so-called red tape prohibitive to business in New Jersey.

Jose Miranda, business development officer at BBZ Limousine in Bergenfield, told of how the luxury transportation business is now competing with an ever-growing, non-federally regulated ridesharing network. He came to the roundtable in hopes of leveling the playing field.

“Companies [we seek as clients] tell us Uber is cheaper. There’s a reason it’s cheaper. It’s not regulated. Every single one of our vehicles need to be registered and inspected. On the federal level, there’s no regulation [for ridesharing]—they’re not stepping in at all,” Miranda said.

Because his drivers are transporting high net worth individuals, BBZ requires a $1 million insurance plan to operate, and his limousine drivers have commercial driver licenses.

“I understand it’s a dicey subject, but if we could at least start on the corporate level where it’s just about leveling the playing field, that’s all we’re asking for,” Miranda said.

Lundegren told Miranda that ridesharing regulation is a common topic at the roundtables and invited him to discuss the topic further with him.

Multiple businesspeople brought up trucking regulations, specifically the electronic logging device mandate and Hours of Service Regulations that track how many hours a trip takes and limits how many hours a trucker can work over the course of a day.

“For local truck drivers, if there’s a delay in unloading at a site or if they are driving and have a lot of congestion, they’re not able to fit that delivery within the allotted time,” said Jessica Fegan of Connection Chemical LP in Newtown, Pa.

According to Fegan, the ELD is particularly burdensome for companies with small fleets that keep within the 150-mile radius, and it results in substantial costs for both companies owning a fleet and those using third-party carriers.

“An example would be we’d have to pay for drivers to stay overnight because of traffic congestion or a delay in unloading that causes a run out of hours,” said Fegan. “And then we also face times when our shipments are delayed because the drivers are out of hours.”

Joe Marino, owner of Sun Valley Orchards in Swedesboro, echoed Fegan’s sentiments.

Responding to Marino, Lundegren said, “This came up earlier and has come up in every roundtable we’ve had. We don’t have a particularly sympathetic audience at the federal level. There are some efforts in Congress to address this, but there’s not a lot of movement there.”

According to Lundegren, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which implements the EDL mandate and Hours of Service Regulations, is not eager to change its tune on these regulations despite what he describes as “increasing the burden and the barriers of the industry.”

The Office of Advocacy’s Clark told NJBIZ roundtables have been held thus far in 22 states.

“We go where the small businesses are, so many of them don’t get an opportunity to reach out to the federal sector. This is a good opportunity for them to come forward and give us a sense of what regulations are impacting them,” Clark said.

Clark and his colleagues will now take the information gathered in Princeton and bring it back to Congress and the White House in hopes of enacting positive change for small businesses.

“Ultimately it’s up to the federal agencies to make the change, but we are the advocate and pushing the change,” said Jason Dore, assistant chief counsel for external affairs and director of information.

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Gabrielle Saulsbery

Gabrielle Saulsbery

Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.

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