I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but an item in the Chicago Tribune recently proved once again that some people just can’t stand prosperity.

It seems a couple of enterprising African-American businessmen were in danger of losing their contract to operate 11 restaurants at Midway Airport because their net worth now exceeds the level the federal government deems appropriate for a “disadvantaged” business. That level–established last year by the U.S. Department of Transportation–is now $750,000. The threshold was presumably lower when twin brothers Timothy and Everett Rand got the contract in 2000.

In a rare showing of common sense, the City of Chicago’s Aviation Department sought clarification from the feds, who advised the contract was OK since it complied with the standards in effect in 2000. Good news, but what happens when the contract expires in 2010? My guess is that the Rands will be sent packing in favor of a disadvantaged bidder whose net worth doesn’t exceed $750,000 (or whatever the standard is by that time).

(As an aside, just how disadvantaged would you feel if your net worth were $749,000? Just asking.)

So unless the brothers find a way to lose a bunch of money before the contract expires, it looks like they’ll have to pack up their grills and deep fryers and find someplace else to sell their burgers and weenies. In other words, they will be punished for being successful.

Whether or not these minority set-aside programs are needed is a question for another day, but it does seem ludicrous that the beneficiaries should be forced out of business for proving they can sometimes work. Maybe they’ll walk away with a pile of money and won’t really care; on the other hand, maybe they’re happy in their work and love their grumpy traveling customers.

In any event, if you’re short of cash in 2010, you might want to think about opening some restaurants. Just be careful not to be too successful.

Pat Cannon
Oak Park

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