JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - We currently sit on the precipice of a burgeoning entrepreneurial-driven industry. The question we now face is will we take that next leap? Will Jacksonville allow an environment that is less hostile towards mobile food trucks? Food trucks represent the type of innovation our community needs to rise above the Great Recession.
Food trucks have shown us how business owners can adapt to changing times. Will our laws now change with them? In my opinion our economy and our downtown need them.
Our city needs more jobs. It's no secret that small businesses must lead the way for an economic recovery to take place. Small business accounts for roughly half of U.S. labor markets employment. Furthermore, small businesses typically fill niches in the labor market that are underserved and traditionally have high rates of unemployment.
Many food truck operators are disenfranchised former employees who have been laid off due to the crushing economic forces of the Great Recession. Food trucks offer an affordable way to open a small business. More so, they have proven to be incubators for larger expansions of small businesses. In the restaurant industry, nearly half of new businesses will fail. Food trucks offer less risk than a traditional restaurant as the start-up and operating costs are much less than traditional brick-and-mortar locations.
There is still inherent risk —just ask a food truck operator how a week of inclement weather will affect their bottom line. However, the risk of opening these types of businesses is mitigated by the cost structure and flexibility of scheduling.
Riverside's Pele's is an example of a brick & mortar business that started as a mobile vendor.
Shouldn't we encourage a level playing field in which someone can open an affordable business and stake out their own pursuit of the American dream? These would-be entrepreneurs deserve an opportunity to forge their own economic destiny. These economic engines don't require large public subsidies to expand. They don't even require taxpayer-guaranteed loans. The city simply needs to get out of the way and let these creative and innovative entrepreneurs do what they do best.
Downtown Jacksonville is currently underserved. This will be especially true with the addition of Everbank employees downtown and the opening of the new courthouse. Food trucks can provide temporary uses for the multiple empty lots that currently litter our downtown landscape. Whereas an empty lot is unwelcoming, food trucks stimulate pedestrian activity by activating unused spaces. By improving walkability, you make downtown more desirable both as a residential neighborhood and a place where more companies will want to do business.
In a recent study, 58% of business owners in downtown Portland found food vendors increase foot traffic. More foot traffic adds to the vibrancy of nearby retail stores. It's no surprise then that big box retailers across the country host food truck events in their parking lots. These enterprising stores have figured out that sales increase commensurate with the increase in foot traffic these mobile vendors bring.
Editorial by Mike Fields