Poll: Tennessee Small Businesses Support Reforms to Expand Access to Licensing for Justice-Impacted Individuals

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, March 7, 2024

New poll finds strong support for licensing reform measures that would help to expand the candidate pool and boost opportunities for entrepreneurship

Nashville, TN — Today, Small Business Majority released new research that reveals strong support for licensing reform measures that could expand Tennessee’s small business workforce. A majority (82%) of Tennessee small business owners support legislative solutions that would remove barriers to occupational and professional licensing for justice-impacted individuals. 

Small businesses are a crucial part of Tennessee's economy and support almost 42% of the state's private sector workforce. However, Small Business Majority research revealed that 57% of small business owners say the top challenge they face when hiring is  finding quality candidates. Justice-impacted individuals are an untapped pool of candidates that could help to fill the gaps within the workforce. But with 1 in 3 Tennesseans having a criminal record, this community faces difficulties in accessing the licensing required to work for a small business much less own their own business. 

“Tennessee’s current licensing laws are keeping some people with criminal records from pursuing their American dream or advancing in their career,” said Awesta Sarkash, Public Policy Director of Small Business Majority. “Tennessee's small business owners are open to hiring justice-impacted individuals, but unfair licensing laws are standing in their way. It’s time for Tennessee policymakers to enact proposals that will inspire entrepreneurs and workers with previous criminal records to become integral community members.” 

Given the tight labor market, it is critical that the state utilizes all opportunities to expand and diversify its candidate pool. The state legislature is considering legislation that would address this by creating more opportunities for justice-impacted individuals to pursue occupational licenses. The poll reveals that this type of measure is strongly supported by Tennessee small businesses—for example, 84% believe that state licensing boards should consider the nature of the offense when deciding whether to deny a license, rather than deny a license broadly for any felony conviction.

The survey also reveals small business owners’ views on reforms to driver’s license fees and ending debt-based driver’s license suspensions (77% support), which can hinder the ability to get to and from the workplace. 

Too many justice-impacted Tennesseans are being held back from employment because of a previous criminal record. The research shows that with reforms to occupational licensing and debt-based driver’s license suspensions, Tennessee can expand talent recruitment while supporting entrepreneurship bolstered by a ready workforce that includes justice-impacted people. During the 2024 legislation session, policymakers can help build a more robust economy by supporting measures that allow employers to tap into an underutilized workforce. 

This poll reflects a survey of 100 small business owners and decision-makers in Tennessee. The poll was an online and phone survey conducted by Chesapeake Beach Consulting on February 5, 2024. The margin of error is +/-10%. Click here to read the full report. 


About Small Business Majority

Small Business Majority is a national small business organization that empowers America's diverse entrepreneurs to build a thriving and equitable economy. We engage our network of more than 85,000 small businesses and 1,500 business and community organizations to advocate for public policy solutions and deliver resources to entrepreneurs that promote equitable small business growth. Our deep connections with the small business community along with our scientific research enable us to educate the public about key issues impacting America’s entrepreneurs, with a special focus on advancing the smallest businesses and those facing systemic inequalities. Learn more about us on our website and follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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