EDITORIAL – ‘Barkers rangers’: Pruning back big government

Barkers infamous “park rangers” have become “lone rangers” – striking out on their own to form a private landscaping business. In so doing, they’ve made a small stand against government growth and scored a victory for free enterprise.

The former rangers, now organized as private company Tropical Landscaping, deserve applause, respect – and the support of the broader business community in the form of giving them some work.

Public Works Director Max Jones should be recognized for facilitating the spinoff, which took the rangers from dependence on the controversial Nation Building Fund, to positions with Mr. Jones’s department, to independence out in the private sector.

From 2011-2013, a 10-person crew was paid more than $560,000 to act as “park rangers” for the Barkers National Park project in West Bay. Those workers were transferred to the government’s Recreation, Parks and Cemeteries Unit, but a plan was spawned to support their establishment of a private landscaping business, following a method recommended in the 2014 Ernst & Young report on downsizing government.

The story is a tale of entrepreneurship, self-reliance and a promising “outsourcing” model – one that should be “franchised” – for launching more private businesses from the ranks of the Cayman Islands’ overpopulated bureaucracy.

As the Cayman Compass reported on Wednesday, government guaranteed work to Tropical Landscaping in 2014-2015, so the new company could gain a footing in the market. After that, the work went out for bid.

“[It] shows enormous value for money when compared with the starting point of the Cayman Islands government directly paying the park rangers,” Mr. Jones said. “It is also one of the few situations where [the government] has successfully privatized employees who were previously effectively on the [public payroll].”

We would venture to say there are hundreds of government workers who have ideas and ambitions that could be similarly nurtured into development in the private sector, which offers unlimited potential for growth.

It has not been all roses for Tropical Landscaping, which “lost” about half of the public areas it was maintaining, including Barkers, after the government “insourced” the work back into the Recreation, Parks and Cemeteries Unit.

That should serve as a caution to companies, particularly small ones, that may become overly dependent on a single large client. When the government pulled its business back into its “Cemeteries Unit,” the burial ceremony could very well have been for Tropical Landscaping. The good news is that the Tropical team survived. Our wish is that they go beyond surviving to flourishing.

The seedlings of future grand enterprises often emerge in the humblest of settings – behind the counter of a jerk stand, in a neighbor’s garage or on the beach hawking folding chairs. But rather than encouraging entrepreneurship, government’s complex (and expensive) system of regulations – think of health insurance obligations, pension payments, licenses, inspections, work permit fees, etc. – often stifles it. In fact, government’s “cost of entry” can often put businesses out of business before they’re even in business.

The opposite should be the case. “One size” does not fit all when it comes to business regulation. What might be fine for, say, large, well-funded enterprises, such as lucrative law firms, banks or hotels, is totally inappropriate for small start-ups.

As every landscaper worth his fertilizer knows, the worst thing one can do to a plant – or to a business – is to “pull it up by its roots” to see how it’s doing. Small businesses need fertile ground, tender loving care and, for financial nutrition, predictable and speedy cash flows.

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