For far too long, taxpayers and community-based small businesses have had to pick up the tab for cleaning up industrial pollution left behind by large multinational corporations that do not have loyalty to any community or country. Combined with health and safety issues, millions of people have had to pay through poorer health, higher disease rates, and in some cases, premature death. These are the human and social costs of failing to enforce the regulations we all know we need. 

Most small businesses are tired of large corporations using them as the argument for reducing regulation. Preventing social, health and environmental abuses by following proper regulations is a much more cost-effective way of reducing the cost of doing business and the need for government – and it is what our neighbors expect of us as responsible business owners and community members.

Regulation is not perfect, and the regulatory process itself involves a learning cycle of trial and error. However, seeking immediate short-term savings by taking an ax to safeguards designed to reduce long-term social, health and environmental problems is not the answer. Adjustments to the process should be made carefully, to ensure the regulations produced actually support the goals of the laws they were created to implement, not to undermine the intent of such laws. And special effort should be made to focus regulations and enforcement on the large corporate violators who created the need for many regulations in the first place.

What frustrates many businesses, regardless of size, is not so much regulation but the lack of enforcement consistency and government response time. Too often, delays in permitting and inspection processes occur because there are too few government workers to process requests. Gutting funding for regulatory agencies will only make this problem worse. Yet at every levels of government, corporate lobbyists work tirelessly to reduce the effectiveness of regulatory agencies by cutting funding for staff.  

A viable business should be able to produce goods or services without poisoning the environment, cutting workplace health and safety corners, or paying employees poverty wages. Our experience shows that businesses can do right by their employees, the environment and local communities and still be profitable. If they can, why can’t everyone?  

So our message to policymakers is simple: reward good businesses for having high standards of practice and treating their employees and the environment right by ensuring ALL businesses follow the same rules so every business is on a level playing field. Because when standards are relaxed and problems occur (E. coli outbreaks, oil spills, financial crises), whole industries suffer, not just the bad apples. Prevention is always cheaper than clean up or trying to restore consumer trust.  

In an increasingly globalized and complex economy where it is difficult to know where products come from, the importance of regulatory agencies in maintaining consumer confidence cannot be overstated. Americans want to know their food is safe and their kids’ toys won’t poison them. So let’s allow the regulatory agencies to get back to their mission: protecting the American people from harm. As a parent, a homeowner and the president of an economic development agency who has helped to assist hundreds of businesses, I support common-sense regulations and timely, effective and consistent enforcement.

Michael Krajovic is the president and CEO of the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council.