Talk­ing about the fu­ture of small busi­ness

The Beacon Herald - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES WELLS STAFF RE­PORTER

Stu­dents, skilled em­ploy­ees and the im­pend­ing in­crease to On­tario’s min­i­mum wage dom­i­nated a roundtable dis­cus­sion Wed­nes­day be­tween Perth-Welling­ton small busi­nesses own­ers and area MPs.

Hosted by Perth-Welling­ton MP John Nater and Durham MP Erin O’Toole, the af­ter­noon ses­sion at the Strat­ford Perth Mu­seum en­cour­aged the nine at­ten­dees to fo­cus on is­sues sur­round­ing small busi­ne­sess and the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive im­pacts ex­pe­ri­enced since the new gov­ern­ment was elected in 2015.

“This is the 16th roundtable I have held since be­ing elected in Oc­to­ber 2015. It is vi­tal mem­bers of Par­lia­ment meet with small busi­nesses on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to hear the chal­lenges they face. They are an es­sen­tial part of the lo­cal econ­omy,” Nater said at the con­clu­sion of the meet­ing.

Em­ploy­ment, skills and wages

were some of the more press­ing is­sues that small- to medi­um­sized busi­nesses have faced in most re­cent years, at­ten­dees said.

“My is­sue is the treat­ment of small busi­nesses with two or three em­ploy­ees, stu­dents, that get their start some­where in life and learn how to work, learn how to dis­ci­pline them­selves, get out of bed in the morn­ing and learn skills that they’re never go­ing to learn any­where else,” said Stew Cardiff, pres­i­dent and owner of Shep­ard Gourmet Dairy in St. Marys.

What was em­pha­sized was the fact that large busi­nesses over­shadow the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences that small busi­nesses can pro­vide to those at­tempt­ing to learn in a work­place.

Karen Bake­laar, owner of Bake­laar Jew­el­ers, of­fered her opin­ion re­gard­ing the em­ploy­ment of young stu­dents and the im­pact the hike to min­i­mum wage could have to busi­nesses such as her own.

“It gives me huge con­cerns. These young ones, they don’t have the skill lev­els; (work­ing) at re­tail (busi­nesses), it doesn’t re­quire post-se­condary ed­u­ca­tion,” said Bake­laar.

Be­cause these young work­ers are lack­ing cer­tain skills, they are often the first to be laid off, de­spite their po­ten­tial con­tri­bu­tions or work ethic, she said. There is also the re­gional strug­gle faced by some small- to medium-busi­nesses sim­ply to find enough work­ers. With a low area unem­ploy­ment rate, some com­pa­nies just can’t find the em­ploy­ees they need.

Angie Hurst, co-owner and vi­cepres­i­dent of Luck­hart Trans­port, ex­plained how her com­pany has found it dif­fi­cult to find work­ers.

“We strug­gle to find em­ploy­ees, and I mean strug­gle,” said Hurst. “To even have peo­ple ap­ply for the job, even show up for an in­ter­view, it’s un­be­liev­able, so we’ve turned to im­mi­grant work­ers on work per­mits.”

Hurst was quick to say this ap­proach does not al­ways work for Luck­hart and adds to the costs.

“Now that’s im­pos­si­ble for us. Every time, it’s more money and more per­mits,” Hurst said.

Busi­ness own­ers like Hurst soon start to feel stuck, un­sure of what they should be do­ing to find key in­di­vid­u­als with the proper skills and a de­sire to work.

With the in­crease to a $15 dol­lar min­i­mum wage com­ing to On­tario by 2019, it’s just one more thing many small busi­ness own­ers view as a step back­wards.

Many of the small busi­ness own­ers at the roundtable agreed that if – and when – this min­i­mum wage in­crease comes to fruition, there would be no way to avoid in­creased prices. Many of the small busi­ness own­ers voiced fears about a domino ef­fect in­volv­ing higher-paid work­ers also want­ing wage in­creases.

“To start some­body at $15 dol­lars an hour right out of school, we’ll lose money on it,” said Dennis Go­forth, owner and pres­i­dent of Gotech Net­work­ing solutions. “Our phi­los­o­phy is go­ing to be we’re not go­ing to in­vest in stu­dents any­more. We’re go­ing to hire some­body for $18 (an hour) who has some ex­pe­ri­ence who can hit the ground run­ning and ac­tu­ally gen­er­ate some profit for us and not a loss.”

Not lik­ing the min­i­mum wage in­crease, Go­forth and Bake­laar both agreed it’s a “vi­cious cir­cle.” Ul­ti­mately, they said, it’s not the busi­nesses get­ting hurt but the younger work­ers out of school.

Other top­ics dis­cussed in­cluded new taxes that are hurt­ing small busi­nesses in On­tario, and fears about the rene­go­ti­a­tion of NAFTA.

JAMES WELLS/THE BEA­CON HER­ALD

John Nater, MP of Perth-Welling­ton, and Erin O’Toole, MP of Durham, hosted a roundtable dis­cus­sion for small busi­ness own­ers Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon at the Strat­ford Perth Mu­seum, where thoughts and opin­ions re­gard­ing small busi­nesses could be shared and dis­cussed with lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

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