Former interim Mecklenburg County manager talks of government’s ‘hoops’ to starting a business

Bobbie Shields’ eyes have been opened.

No longer occupying a public office, the 61-year-old Shields, who was interim Mecklenburg County manager after commissioners fired former County Manager Harry Jones in 2013, has started a new venture that puts him on the other side of government mandates. Last year, he started steps to opening his own engineering, planning and consulting business, SHIELB.

It’s not been without its challenges, he said.

Bureaucratic “hoops” business owners have to navigate are stressful, he said. Forms are excruciatingly detailed. The Secretary of State’s Office rejected his first application because the name of his business was not satisfactory. He said another state office only took cash, not the credit card and checks he took with him on a trip to Raleigh.

“It’s just a number of little, small petty things that I believe are really bureaucratic in nature,” he said. “At the end of the day, I thought they were kind of irrelevant. You have to verify, double verify, submit documents, submit references, re-submit documents.”

While a county leader, business owners often complained to Shields about the process of forming their enterprise. He sympathized then. Today, he empathizes.

“Government makes it hard,” he said. “It ought not be that way.”

Shields served in county government for 27 years after 11 years with Duke Energy. His tenure in Mecklenburg County saw him weather the widespread “misunderstanding” that was the county’s 2011 tax revaluation, and the firing of Jones. He retired in late 2013.

Those difficulties, he said, have prepared him for entrepreneurship.

“I can see how it could be quite discouraging for people who are not willing to stick in and say, ‘I’m going to keep going after it, keep going after it,’ ” he said.

He hasn’t hired any attorneys or accountants. He’s doing his own marketing and hopes to establish his own Web presence. He doesn’t have any loans or investors. He said he’s spent about $2,500 so far to start the business from the ground up. His first “transaction” was joining the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, which charges $400 for general membership.

He said he hasn’t made a profit but has three prospective clients – developers and a government office outside Mecklenburg County – that he will work with in coming months.

“I think I’ve crossed every ‘T’ and dotted every ‘I’ and complied with every request and kept a smile on my face the whole time,” he said.

He wants the process for business owners to become easier. He has a proposed solution.

“Regulators need to understand and think through some of these processes,” he said. “Maybe they need to train some regulators by putting them in a business environment and having them go through the process.”