U.S. Rep. Mark Alford, R-Missouri District 3, wanted to learn about regulations affecting small business development. What he learned from area business leaders Tuesday were not the specific rules for small businesses, but the issues related to business and workforce impacts.
Alford met with Eric Morrison, President of Sundvold Financial and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce; Trent Rash, executive director of the Missouri Symphony and co-chair of the chamber’s small business committee; Lara Pieper, owner of Bloom Bookkeeping and co-chair of the small business committee; Brad Eiffert, president of Boone County Lumber; Mike Grellner, Vice President, Plaza Commercial Realty; Matt McCormick, Chamber President; and Jennifer Barth, vice president of Missouri Employers Mutual.
Issues discussed include workforce development and retention, affordable housing, child care, and health care. The discussion also touched on commodity tariffs, particularly issues related to building materials, which lead to higher housing costs.
McCormick said Columbia has less than one person for every job, creating a labor shortage despite other positive jobs numbers. With workforce development comes workforce attraction, and so the chamber is working on ways to keep students here or bring people back to Columbia.
In some cases, it’s less about federal regulations affecting businesses, but navigating the myriad of state laws, especially for remote workers, Barth said.
When it comes to child care, people prefer to stay at home rather than go into the workforce because of the capacity and cost of child care.
“If our workforce doesn’t have a place they can afford to put their kids, they won’t go back to work. We see a lot of that,” McCormick said. Some early bills in the Missouri General Assembly aim to address this problem.
Accredited child care facilities for low-income families also face many burdensome regulations, such as financial audit rules, Pieper said.
Due to the rising costs of providing private health insurance to its employees, Eyffert adopted a different model. Its employees either rely on the American Care Act marketplace or Eiffert subsidies ensure employees are members of Big Tree Medical. While it no longer provides insurance, Eifert said, some workers have found better coverage in the ACA marketplace than they had in their private plans.
“We gave up traditional health care because my employees couldn’t use it because they were high-deductible plans and required cash,” he said.
Rash highlighted the Missouri Chamber Plan, which provides some health insurance benefits to member organizations. It also has to rely on fractional staffing, so there are fewer full-time employees and others who may be part-time or less.
Grellner said the engineer needs to be seen as important as the custodial staff when looking at an affordable housing conversation like the one with MU units. Affordable housing issues relate to zoning regulations and available housing stock, he added.
Infrastructure is another factor, McCormick said, and money promised for improvements is being held up. This includes highway projects on Interstate 70 and, to a lesser extent, US Highway 63. Strong infrastructure, along with its location, has driven manufacturing jobs to Colombia, he said.
McCormick said one small business arrangement Alford could explore is a revolving loan fund through the federal Economic Development Administration. It provides gap funding for people to start a business or grow their business. Alsford said he might explore that funding source because he serves on the U.S. House small business committee.
More: Earlier in the session, lawmakers focused on solving Missouri’s child care crisis
Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general topics for the Tribune. He can be reached at [email protected] or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Subscribe to support vital local journalism.