Who are Charles and David Koch?

No doubt you’ve heard a few suggestions. Earlier this month, I sought to answer this for myself earlier this month when I joined the Kochs and several hundred other entrepreneurs at an event in Southern California.

What I saw didn’t look anything like what I’d heard. Their focus is on breaking down the barriers that prevent people—especially the least fortunate—from finding and fulfilling their dreams. Now I intend to support them going forward.

My own experience as an Illinois businessman has given me a firsthand look at the barriers we’re talking about. Simply look at our state’s addiction to over-regulation. According to the Mercatus Center, we have the 42nd worst regulatory burden nationally and the worst by far in the Midwest.

OPINION

This directly limits the economic growth and upward mobility that are essential to people’s well-being. Occupational licensing is one of the many, many examples. These government-mandated certifications are often needlessly required for entry-level and moderate-income jobs. In Illinois, the Institute for Justice surveyed 100 common careers and found that roughly 40 percent require licenses.

Want to interpret sign language? Fork over $885.Thinking of becoming a barber? Hope you have a few hundred bucks and don’t mind spending a year in school. And these are some of the cheap professions.

Rarely will you see more obvious barriers to opportunity. They keep people from finding the jobs and careers that suit their interests or give them the experience to strike out on their own.

But on that note, entrepreneurship has never been more difficult. Over-regulation directly harms our state’s job creators, as I’ve learned at my own business. Of particular concern to me is Illinois’ out-of-control workers’ compensation system, which can cost a company up to four times more than it would in a neighboring state.

We’d rather use this money to create jobs, expand the company, and increase wages—but we can’t.

No wonder so many Illinois companies have found it easier to move to a neighboring state, taking jobs and opportunities with them.

The federal government has created a slew of problems, too. Nationally, both parties have contributed to the crisis of over-regulation, but President Obama has far surpassed his predecessors. His administration has saddled the economy with over half a trillion dollars in new regulatory costs.

According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the total federal regulatory burden now averages out to $15,000 per American family. Much of this money is wasted in a bureaucratic black hole; it should be spent making people’s lives better.

And small businesses—where every company starts and where most Americans work—suffer the most. The federal governments estimates that firms with fewer than 20 employees pay roughly 55 percent more in regulatory costs than big businesses, which have the scale and the experience to mitigate this burden. Small businesses can’t grow—they can hardly even get off the ground.

No wonder more businesses are now closing than opening, a phenomenon that hasn’t been seen since researchers started tracking it in the mid-20th century. I started my own company in 1979 with 13 employees. If I tried to do the same thing today, I fear I’d fail within the first year.

No matter where you look, too many people are looking for opportunities that either don’t exist or are just out of reach. Politicians in both Washington and Springfield have built barriers that are insurmountable to anyone but the already wealthy. I proudly stand with Charles and David Koch in the fight to break down those barriers for everyone, especially the least fortunate.

Kevin Burke is the founder of Burke Beverage, a beverage distributor headquartered in McCook.