• Alex Montgomery is a city policy associate at the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Virginia
  • Daryl James is an Institute for Justice writer.

Highland Park in north Des Moines has always felt like home to Sara Hopkins. She grew up in the neighborhood, and in 2020 she decided to renovate a vacant, dilapidated building in a commercial corridor near her childhood home for a new real estate business.

Opening a brick-and-mortar enterprise during the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges. But as Hopkins moved forward with her project, she realized that her biggest obstacle was not the economic uncertainty that came with the pandemic, but City Hall. Des Moines requires aspiring entrepreneurs to navigate a long, complex and expensive approval process that shuts down many ventures before they get started. “It felt like the rules were designed to make it difficult for someone like me to start up,” Hopkins says.

“Barriers to Business,” a new report from the Institute for Justice, shows just how bad things have gotten for aspiring business owners. The study, published Feb. 8, 2022, analyzes city codes and startup requirements for five common business types in 20 U.S. cities, including Des Moines.


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