October 10, 2002
Home Sweet Home/Workplace By Sam Fulwood

Homes in Solon are a varied lot: ranches and contemporaries; palatial and modest. Every one built for family shelter and comfort.

Or so I thought.

To Andy Birol, a Solon home is much more than a place to live, sleep and eat.

Birol, owner of Birol Growth Consulting and an advocate for home-based businesses in Solon, believes that today's high-tech economy is forcing more and more people to view their house as a workplace.

"Home businesses are particularly critical to Northeast Ohio's struggle to transition from a manufacturing economy to one balanced with services and knowledge businesses," he said.

By plugging in a couple of phone lines, hooking up high-speed Internet service and installing a fax machine and answering service, that two-story Tudor in Solon (or a house anywhere else) becomes the world headquarters of a global business.

Such businesses are as old as the nation itself and vital to the American can-do, free-market system.

Birol carried this message to the Solon City Council earlier this week, arguing that city leaders would be making a mistake to impose too many regulations on the size and nature of home-based businesses.

Ordinarily I'd be the first in line to shoot down any effort to curtail creative and legal ways to earn a living.

But I'm holding my fire on this one. The council wisely decided to learn more about the nature of existing home businesses and seek additional comments from residents before adopting new rules or going to voters.

At the earliest, any proposal to restrict home-based businesses could be put before voters in May, but it's not likely the council will act before the November 2003 ballot. That's ample time to debate the matter and to reach a compromise.

Existing ordinances in Solon prevent homeowners from posting advertising in their yards and hiring nonresident family members as employees.

But those regulations might be too broad, failing to prevent some businesses that everyone agrees would be a poor neighbor. Nothing destroys a community quicker than a jerk running a noisy or smelly business, say an auto repair shop, 24-7.

Even so, council shouldn't make it too difficult for people to run a quiet business that few people notice. Indeed, city officials may notice a trickle of new revenue from taxes paid on the goods and services consumed by home-based businesses.

The libertarian in me argues that people should be allowed to do as they please inside their homes as long as it's legal and doesn't hurt anyone. I don't want the cops stopping me from writing columns in the attic that I've converted into a home office.

Worse, Solon risks placing itself at a competitive disadvantage with other communities. Shaker Heights, for example, is looking for streets to market as a live-work district to attract residents working at home.

"Encouraging home businesses offers a great opportunity for the future by linking older homes to our fiber-optic network and the Internet," Shaker Heights Mayor Judy Rawson said. "We can do this without building new offices or changing the fabric of neighborhoods."

That's the right idea. After all, the next billionaire entrepreneur might be toiling this moment in one of those Solon houses.

The world's richest man, Bill Gates, started Seattle's Microsoft as a home-based business.

Leadership Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Technology Council

Institute for Entrepeneurial Excellence

SMC Business Councils

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