Here in Sarasota, Siesta Key specifically, we have proof yet again that, despite all efforts by our governments to squelch free enterprise, Americans still possess an unrelenting entrepreneurial spirit.
Kudos to entrepreneurs David Krbec of Cocoa Beach and Patrick Green of Bradenton. The two are expected to launch next week Siesta Shuttle Transportation, a new privately operated trolley-bus route that will shuttle beachgoers to and from Siesta Key beach and the Westfield Southgate Mall.
Leave it up to entrepreneurs and the private sector to figure out how to solve a problem or fill an unmet need — and do it better and more efficiently than the government.
No surprise there.
Irked by a $25 fee to park on a Siesta Key lawn while they went to the beach, Krbec and Green figured they could help solve Siesta Key beach’s seemingly unsolvable parking problem.
It seemed unsolvable, only because (too) many people — and the Sarasota County commissioners themselves — perceived the problem as one for the government to solve.
But like all good entrepreneurs and innovators, Krbec and Green looked at the situation and asked themselves: What is the need; what is the job to be performed; what pain needs to be eliminated; who will benefit? What is it worth? And, can we do it better and for less than what is currently being done?
On paper, everyone wins: Mainland beachgoers will have economical transportation to the beach. Westfield Southgate Mall and its stores will win because Krbec and Green have devised some cross-promotions to steer beachgoers into the mall stores. The county government wins because all those cars that would have sought parking at Siesta Beach will no longer need that space. And, we hope, Krbec and Green will win because they’ll make a profit for their efforts.
That’s capitalism at its best — performing a service to benefit others at a fair price for all.
Let’s hope Krbec and Green succeed.
+ Regulating food trucks
While David Krbec and Patrick Green hope to fill consumers’ wants and needs with a bus, there are other Sarasota County entrepreneurs hoping the strong arm of government regulation will back off and let them thrive.
These are the mobile food trucks, a trend that is sweeping the country.
It’s an interesting regulatory and competitive dilemma, and the Sarasota County Commission is wrestling with how best to address it.
Here’s the situation: Creative and most likely thinly capitalized mobile food vendors — you can’t really call them “restaurateurs” — have found healthy market demand from consumers. We see these types of vendors — with their trucks outfitted with kitchens — all the time at such events as county fairs, sports games, concerts and auto races. They’re filling a consumer want and need.
Some of these same big-event vendors, as well as others, have discovered they can take their trucks to areas dense with working people and cater to the lunch crowds. Locally, some of these vendors have seen opportunity on Siesta Key, with all of its tourists and beachgoers.
And that’s where the challenges began to surface.
Siesta’s brick-and-mortar restaurant owners, along with the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, don’t like these new competitors, in large part because the regulatory rules are not equitable. Their list of objections to the mobile vendors was predictable: unclean, unsafe for pedestrians, schlocky looking and unfair competition.
On the latter point, restaurateurs cite how they are required to pay property taxes; undergo a myriad of state and local sanitation inspections; and pay additional improvement-district taxes to cover the costs of an area’s beautification — a fact common to all Siesta Key Village, St. Armands Circle and downtown Sarasota restaurants.
What to do? Outlaw the mobile food vendors?
That would be a mistake.
To some extent, think of them in the context of the digital information world. As the internet gained popularity, it weakened the control of traditional media — newspapers, TV, radio and magazines. Suddenly everyone became a journalist. The barriers to entry plummetted, as did the price consumers paid for information.
With the food vendors, it’s similar. Anyone with a truck or car can try to sell a hot dog or taco. Likewise, the barriers to entry and cost of food plummets, leaving the traditional purveyors battling new competition. But the consuming public benefits; it has another, economical channel to satisfy its food desires.
The traditional restaurants have choices. They can confront this new competition. They can join them, creating their own mobile food trucks with their respected brands. They can buy or merge with a mobile vendor. Or they can continue to find ways to remain competitive.
Or, they can lobby government to create such onerous barriers that the mobile vendors cannot meet.
Let the marketplace work.
But the tax and regulatory regimes must be equitable. To be sure, the mobile vendors should meet the same sanitation standards as brick-and-mortar restaurants.
And it seems equitable that the mobile truck venors should pay property and tangibles taxes as well. You can argue the only difference between a mobile vendor and a traditional restaurant is the mobile one sits on four wheels. It occupies space, albeit less than a traditional restaurant.
What’s more, if a street vendor wants to serve in Siesta Key Village, he too should pay his share of the improvement-district taxes.
The matter of esthetics is challenging. You can predict Siesta Key Village and St. Armands Circle property owners and merchants don’t want junky mobile vendors cluttering the streets. But here again, the rules for signage, awnings and physical maintenance should apply.
We hope the County Commission embraces the mobile vendors. Part of being a creative community is accepting variety and entrepreneurism. Let ’em roll.
THE PRESIDENTS’ LAST GRAPHS
Compare the final paragraphs of the second inaugural addresses of the four most recent two-term presidents.
Whose is most inspiring, and who really meant what he said?
“My fellow citizens, our Nation is poised for greatness. We must do what we know is right and do it with all our might. Let history say of us, ‘These were golden years — when the American Revolution was reborn, when freedom gained new life, when America reached for her best.”
— Ronald Reagan, Jan. 21, 1985
“May those generations whose faces we cannot yet see, whose names we may never know, say of us here that we led our beloved land into a new century with the American Dream alive for all her children; with the American promise of a more perfect union a reality for all her people; with America’s bright flame of freedom spreading throughout all the world.
— Bill Clinton, Jan. 20, 1997
“When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, ‘It rang as if it meant something.’ In our time it means something still. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength — tested, but not weary — we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.”
— George W. Bush, Jan. 20, 2005
“Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.”
— Barack Obama, Jan. 20, 2013