Feb 24, 2022
U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) visits with Traer Chamber of Commerce Vice President Jon Crisman as he leads a small business tour down 2nd Street in Traer on Feb. 12. Hinson made stops at Simply Blooming flower shop, Whannel’s Hardware, Hometown Foods and Reuman’s Clothing and heard from local business owners and managers about their challenges and successes with hiring, workforce retention and changes within the supply chain. – Photo by Darvin Graham
With the condition of the U.S. economy at the forefront of conversations from Wall Street down to the kitchen table this year, it came as no surprise that U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) would be focusing on business-related issues during a central Iowa swing through tour last week.
On Friday, Feb. 12 Hinson made a return visit to northern Tama County where she spent time talking with business owners in the downtown district in Traer.
A group of Traer Chamber of Commerce members rendezvoused with Hinson at Wonders From The Past antique store Friday afternoon before setting off down 2nd Street to meet with local store owners.
It was “go time” at Simply Blooming flower shop for store owner Lisa Eikamp and her staff as they were days away from the Valentine’s Day holiday.
Eikamp relayed that she has begun to notice supply issues over the past six months for some of her products.
Jay Whannel at Whannel’s Hardware in Traer describes the family history that’s been behind his business for more than 75 years for Congresswoman Ashley Hinson during her visit to Tama County on Feb. 12. — Photo by Darvin Graham
She also described how the community continued to patronize her business through the pandemic as flowers and gifts remained a safe, yet personal way to reach out to loved ones.
Though her staff is small in numbers, Eikamp said she’s felt the strain on the local workforce turn up in many places around the community over the past year.
“Finding more help is an issue for everyone,” Eikamp said. “You look around now and our gas station isn’t serving food anymore, our pizza place is only doing carry out. It’s a noticeable thing.”
At Whannel’s Hardware, Hinson heard from owner Jay Whannel Sr. who has owned and managed the nearly century-old family retail business since 1979.
For Whannel, the challenges of managing a business with a large and diverse inventory has become increasingly difficult over the past year both in terms of supply and market costs.
Hometown Foods Manager Meghan Renslow greets Congresswoman Ashley Hinson who stopped into the Traer grocery store on Feb. 12. There she heard from staff and owners about their efforts to keep employee wages competitive and the workplace culture enjoyable and rewarding as means to keep their workforce stable. — Photo by Darvin Graham
“For some products I’m lucky to get it,” Whannel said. “And then when I do get it, I’m charging too much for it, but I’ve got to because I’m paying too much for it.”
Whannel said a recent inflation estimate based on the cost of many items in his inventory to be around a 30 percent increase from the previous year.
He said store staff have found it difficult to keep up with the constant changing of prices on the hundreds of individually priced items in the store from a screw to a wheelbarrow.
Currently he said they’re considering a few different adjustments to deal with the price change challenges including removing prices from the shelving and having employees provide pricing at the register or beginning a routine of updating the entire inventory display pricing on a daily basis, which would require additional hours and staff.
At Hometown Foods grocery store Hinson met with owners Doug and Jill Eilderts as well as store manager and chamber treasurer Meghan Renslow.
Mike Reuman of Reuman’s Clothing talks with Congresswoman Ashley Hinson about several of the supply issues his retail business has dealt with over the past year during Hinson’s visit to Traer on Feb. 12. — Photo by Darvin Graham
The Hometown Foods team described to Hinson how they experience product outages and supply issues in unpredictable ways, sometimes being unable to source singular items like tapioca pudding, Capri Sun drinks and chow mein noodles for undetermined lengths of time.
Conversely, Hometown Foods has fared well with their workforce over the past year.
Renslow said she believes their competitive wages and their workplace culture are two of the biggest factors that have helped them both retain current employees and attract applicants when they need to hire new employees.
She said they employ a lot of high school-aged workers who are just getting into their first job experience.
“We do deliveries and so they’re having to take orders over the phone and getting to know what the customers want,” Renslow said. “It teaches them how to be good employees and how to be responsible. We serve a lot of elderly customers and so that interaction and customer service is important. I tell everyone I interview that I expect them to work hard but that we also have fun and that dynamic has made for a great work family here.”
The last stop on the downtown tour was to another long-time family-owned business.
Mike and Joan Reuman were on hand to greet Hinson at Reuman’s Clothing, a downtown clothing retailer that’s been supplying the Traer area with suits, ties, shoes and everything in between for more than 140 years.
Similar to the other retail businesses in town, supply chain issues have been increasing in severity over the past year with the clothing industry being no exception.
Mike Reuman expressed the difficulty he recently went through trying to order a pair of six-inch Red Wing work shoes for a customer.
He said he went through 11 different styles of shoe before finding one that was available within a reasonable timeframe. On the phone with the Red Wing company he was hearing lead times between six months to the end of 2022.
“Wigwam brand socks that I get from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I called them up in January of last year to place an order, the order came in in June,” Reuman said. “We’re talking, work socks, everyday socks. And then I ordered some more this past June and some of those I still haven’t got. It’s all over the gamut.”
Reuman was not without optimism however as he reported predictions he’s heard from his suppliers and wholesalers thought a turnaround in the state of the supply chain and the U.S. economy might be coming by the end of the year.
“It’ll get better,” Reuman said. “I mean, I really truly believe it will get better but it’s gonna take a while.”
In response to the supply chain and workforce issues Hinson heard about Friday, she highlighted some viewpoints as well as a piece of legislation she hopes can be of assistance.
Introduced in early December, the Critical Infrastructure Manufacturing Feasibility Act is a bill that Hinson co-sponsored that seeks to direct the Secretary of Commerce to conduct a feasibility study to identify any high demand product within each critical infrastructure sector that is currently being imported due to a manufacturing, material, or supply chain constraint in the United States. The study would take those identified products and analyze the costs and benefits of instead manufacturing the product in the United States.
Currently the bill remains in the U.S. House and is awaiting discussion by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
In addressing workforce issues Hinson referred back to a business roundtable discussion she had earlier in the day in Marshalltown.
“The biggest thing coming out of that was people want training and education opportunities,” Hinson said. “And so making sure our workers have access to that, no matter what their income level is, is crucial. I’m a big believer in Pell Grants and trying to expand those shorter term worker training opportunities. But again, I think it comes down to making sure that the incentive to not work is not there. Obviously, if people lose their job, we want the safety net to be there for unemployment, but we want to make sure we’re not having a whole bunch of people who are relying on the government.”
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Hinson talks small business in Tama County | News, Sports, Jobs – Tama News-Herald – Toledo Chronicle
Feb 24, 2022