Raising the minimum is the right thing to do | Guest op

By Dan Olmstead
For the Reporter

What kind of customer does a small business owner like? The one with disposable income. Yet, raise the subject of minimum wage and some will quickly claim that raising it is something we cannot afford to do.

As someone with more than 15 years of experience growing a small business in Auburn and Federal Way, I believe we cannot afford to be lazy thinkers.

The proposal considered in Olympia – it raises Washington's minimum wage gradually over three years to $12 an hour – will give our local economies a much-needed boost in consumer demand.

How many customers will come through my door? That is the question that leads all small business decision-making on hiring, downsizing or expanding. Our success is tied to the economic vitality of the communities in which we do business. The increasing wealth gap not only harms low-income people, it also creates a death spiral of falling demand that hurts small businesses.

Workers are our neighbors and our customers. They do not go to small businesses with their investment income but with their wages. When they have more money, small businesses do better. Increasing economic security for workers provides a boost to the bottom line of local businesses.

We all lose, however, when we all have to pay for a disastrous corporate business model. Multinational chains pay their employees poverty wages and force them to be reliant on social programs. Walmart's employees, for instance, are in many states the largest group of food stamp and Medicaid recipients.

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. Every job should be an economy-boosting job.

Moreover, employee retention is something every business owner takes seriously. Small businesses need a stable workforce. Paying decent wages reduces turnover, cuts training costs and enables us to grow our companies.

Policymakers should know that the wisdom is to be found on Main Street, not Wall Street. Mom-n-pop's, small entrepreneurs and shop owners have always had a more holistic and a more realistic view of our local economy as it actually is, grown bottom-up and with consumer demand.

Businesses succeed over time if they're grounded in communities of secure people who enjoy access to good health care, good education and genuine economic opportunity. I have always believed that running a business well and believing in the American creed of "We the People" makes sense. We all come together and make roads, bridges, water works, schools, emergency services and so much more to help make my business possible.

Part of that infrastructure is also our collective responsibility to ensure that my neighbors receive living wages so they can be my customers and your customers.

In public policy debates, the Us v. Them mindset sets in all too easily and closes the door on constructive dialogue. Raising the minimum is the right thing to do, not simply because it is good for small business. Common sense and decency also tell me that gradually raising the minimum wage to $12 hour will make a huge difference to thousands of my friends and neighbors.

I eagerly look forward to more of them being able to be not only fellow community members but also my customers. My future depends on it.

Dan Olmstead is the owner of Poverty Bay Coffee Company and a member of the Main Street Alliance of Washington.

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