Local View: A fair wage is key to boosting small businesses

By

Published:

 

We have all been playing the 12th man for the billionaire up in Seattle. It is now time for all of us to be the 12th man for our communities and small businesses.

The current proposal in Olympia to raise our state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour over three years is not only smart but crucial if we want to rebuild and maintain thriving local economies.

Many of you have at least driven by my shop. For almost four decades, Hoesly Eco Automotive has been a presence in downtown Vancouver. I feel blessed to have loyal and hardworking employees and a community that can afford my services. What every small business owner knows is this: When people come into our shops, stores and offices, they bring their wages with them, not their investment income.

Two great truths ought to inform our wage debate. Running a small business in today’s corporate welfare economy is, as some have called it, akin to living on the firing line. Doing it is much harder than just thinking about it from the sidelines. The Great Recession has had a devastating impact on small businesses. But even prior to that great dive in consumer demand, our politicians and our public policy have long favored big corporations at Main Street’s expense. As the backbone of our struggling communities, we are due careful consideration.

It is also just as true what many, from council members to President Barack Obama, have rightly pointed out: The interests of the working people and those of small business entrepreneurs and shop owners are the same.

Despite corporate attempts to use small business as cover for pushing the Wall Street agenda, Washingtonians actually understand the difference. On one side are corporate boardrooms with short-term objectives and lobbyists with complete disregard for our communities. On the other side are people like me who know from experience that businesses succeed over time if they’re grounded in communities of secure people who enjoy access to genuine economic opportunity.

My reality is that yearly family incomes of even $40,000 or $50,000 make for bad customers. For those people, every trip to my shop, every repair or upgrade, is a momentous decision to be weighed against all other emergencies and necessities. More often than not, their patronage at my store gets postponed.

My success is tied to the economic vitality of families around me. The increasing wealth gap not only harms low-income people but it also creates a death spiral of falling demand that hurts small businesses. The truth is that increasing economic security for workers provides a boost to the bottom line of local small businesses.

We need to make steady progress toward an economy in which every job is an economy-boosting job. Full-time work ought to provide the opportunity to live decently, support a family, save for the future and fully contribute to the economic health of the community, without relying on public assistance.

What my fellow Main Street soldiers will also tell you is that good workers do not fall from the sky but are a product of nurture and investment. Employee retention is something every business owner takes seriously. Paying decent wages reduces turnover, cuts training costs and enables us to grow our companies.

And yet we all know that big corporations have based their business models on driving wages down to starvation levels while all of us collectively pay for the damage with struggling assistance programs, never-ending budget battles, and a meager or declining consumer demand that sinks Main Street.

There are no silver bullets when it comes to revitalizing our local economies. It is a struggle on several fronts. Corporations need to stop dodging their taxes in exotic offshore accounts and need to stop corrupting our political process.

With common sense and the 12th man’s passion and unity, pass this reasonable, phased-in wage raise and see those dollars come right back to boost our local consumer demand.

One of the basic pillars of our future prosperity is making sure corporations pay wages that allow their workers to be small business customers.


Don Orange is the owner of Hoesly Eco Automotive in Vancouver and Chair of the Main Street Alliance of Washington.