Talking about the future of small business
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.
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.