The City Needs to Listen to Small Businesses

Over the past month, members of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce have been pounding the pavement at City Hall, making our case as to why the City needs to give a break to small businesses with the proposed minimum wage increase.

The current proposal would raise the minimum wage from the current $9 to $13.25 an hour by 2017.  This would be achieved through $1.25 increases per year. Some councilmembers have even suggested an additional increase to $15.25 by 2019.

What has impressed me as we have made the rounds at City Hall is the compelling information that our small businesses have shared with City officials.  Let me share some of the insights that I have gained.

When a City raises the costs of doing business, it forces the business to compensate by reducing costs elsewhere.  That means businesses will not expand, fewer jobs will be available, employees’ hours will be cut, summer jobs for students will decrease, and businesses will make do with fewer employees.  That is hardly a recipe for job creation in the nation’s second largest city – which still has fewer jobs today than it did 25 years ago.

One of the industries that will be hardest hit by the minimum wage hike is restaurants.  The L.A. Times recently quoted data that the net profit margin for restaurants averages 3 percent, compared with a nearly 6.3 percent profit margin for all private industries across the country.  … which means that restaurants have a lesser ability to absorb these mandated increases.

Our restaurateurs say that payroll represents between 40 and 60 percent of their overall costs.  They scoff at the City-commissioned Berkeley study’s claim that they will only have to raise their prices by a cumulative 4.1 percent by 2017 in order to cover the minimum wage hike.

One restaurateur said that ancillary costs tied to wages such as Social Security, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation premiums would add roughly 30 percent to the cost of the 47 percent increase proposed by the City. In addition, they would have to pay increased costs for their restaurant supplies as other vendors within the City raise their prices to also compensate for the wage increase.  He estimated that prices would need to be raised by up to 35 percent to fully recover the added payroll costs.  However, restaurants’ customers are highly price sensitive, which would limit a restaurant’s ability to raise prices significantly.

One retailer explained that the added payroll costs may push them over the brink. They are unable to hike their prices to compensate for the increased costs of the wage mandate, because of internet competition.  If they raise prices, they will lose customers.

A nonprofit organization detailed how they compete for statewide grants.  As they factor in the costs of the hike in the minimum wage, it will place them at a competitive disadvantage with nonprofits from other areas of the state and likely cause them to lose grants and jobs.  They anticipate having to cut their student jobs and hours by 40 percent.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce recognizes the need for an increase in the minimum wage and we have offered qualified support if the City takes steps to protect its small businesses.  Of course, the best solution would be for the City to offer an exemption for small businesses below an established threshold of employees. This would be the right step to preserve jobs and small businesses.

If that is not achievable, then the City of Seattle offers a model where they increased the minimum wage for small businesses at the reduced level of 50 cents annually.  An increase of that order, as compared to the $1.25 a year increase now proposed, would be easier for small businesses to absorb.

The City’s justification for raising the wage is to get people out of poverty.  What they have missed in all of this is that the businesses they would hurt the most are the ones that create the most new jobs.  These small businesses hire unskilled and untrained workers.  They train these employees and give them an opportunity to join the workforce and to move up the ladder as they acquire skills.  The proposed wage increase could hurt the very people the City wishes to assist.

Our message to the City Council is not to “kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”  Do the right thing and take steps to protect the small businesses that do so much for our economy.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 22 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

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