Clinic receives grant to research local economic development

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

Michigan State University College of Law Associate Professor Nicole Dandridge, director of the Law College's Small Business and Nonprofit Law (SBNL) Clinic, recently received a $25,000 Michigan Applied Public Policy Research grant to identify legal and government barriers to entrepreneurial activity and job creation in the state. Dandridge and SBNL Clinic students will conduct the study, with a focus on restrictions that interrupt the economic environment of Detroit and hinder Michigan's ability to be more "business friendly."

The Michigan Applied Public Policy Research grant, explained Dandridge, "is offered by the MSU College of Social Science Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. The 2012 grants are awarded to faculty on campus to do research that can be presented to the Michigan Legislature when they come into session in 2013."

"My piece is on entrepreneurship in Detroit. At the end of the year this study will culminate in a policy paper that will share our findings. We plan to take the study one step further and learn from what we uncover and launch outreach that will serve entrepreneurs in the way they need it most."

The project is a multi-dimensional alliance between the academic, practitioner, government, and nonprofit legal business service communities. Student clinicians, faculty, staff, and project partners will review major city and state regulations that impact small businesses to determine whether they achieve a legitimate government objective without unduly burdening business activity.

Study participants will visit small business owners from a broad range of occupations to conduct a survey and investigate the regulations firsthand. The target number of business owners is 100.

To identify the business owners Dandridge and her group are working with groups in Detroit such as Detroit Economic Growth Corp and Wayne State University Law School. Eric Williams, the director of Wayne Law's Small Business and Nonprofit Clinic, has relationships that they can use to help find small businesses "with less than 20 employees."

Students enrolled in the SBNL Clinic during the spring and fall 2012 semesters will engage in community economic development research with a goal of finding better and simpler ways to do business in Michigan.

"We will take a critical look at regulations," Dandridge said, "asking what purpose does it serve to have these folks jump through these hoops?" Are the regulations "onerous or duplicitous? Can the same thing be accomplished in an easier way that will help spur economic development?"

"What happens is that entrepreneurs don't comply (with regulations) because it is overwhelming or they do try and run into so many problems that it discourages them" from owning and operating a business.

Dandridge noted that others who had done 'barrier studies' said the small business owners are suspicious when approached thinking that the students are one more code inspector about to make a report or assign a fee.

Because of this, Dandridge and her group are "thinking of creative ways to approach this population. We have to let them know that 'we are here for you.'"

They are working with the School of Social Science to create the questions for the study. "We want to be sure that the data collected is sound."

The information gathered through the project will be analyzed and presented to the 2013 Michigan Legislature and local lawmakers to inform them of regulatory hurdles and to offer suggestions for making Detroit, the state's urban core and most populous city, more "business friendly."

The MSU College of Social Science Institute for Public Policy and Social Research annually awards grants to research projects aimed at informing state and local lawmakers on public policy issues.

The MSU Law Small Business & Nonprofit Clinic enhances law students' professional development through experiential learning in the specialized transactional areas of business and nonprofit law. The clinic trains confident and competent legal professionals to assist underserved Michigan small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Student clinicians facilitate entrepreneurial empowerment by engaging in community economic development and outreach initiatives that provide timely, quality, legally relevant information. The clinic also creates community and campus partnerships to expand resources available to Michigan small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Published: Wed, Feb 22, 2012