PETERSBURG, W.Va. — Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee heard stories about the difficulty of small business first hand in a tiny West Virginia community Monday. The committee held the first in a series of field hearings across the Untied States in Petersburg, W.Va.
“Over the last few years, this committee’s work and that of Congress, has drifted from the needs of these good people. We must course correct. We must prioritize the voices in rooms like this one and not those of the Washington Political Class,” said Committee Chairman Jason Smith of Missouri.
West Virginia Congresswoman Carol Miller was on hand and is a member of the Committee. Congressman Alex Mooney was also on hand and although not a committee member, was permitted to participate in the hearing.
Four representatives of various business large and small in West Virginia testified and took questions from Committee members about the difficulties their respective companies and employers have endured in the past two to three years since the pandemic started. All agreed they have suffered hard times, some more than others, but there was an array of problems laid out to members of the committee.
The number one issue seemed to be the impact of inflation. All four mentioned it in one way or another.
“We have and continue to struggle with the ever increasing cost of goods,” said Ashley Bachman, owner and operator of Cheetah B’s Restaurant in Petersburg.
Bachman used the wholesale cost of chicken wings, a popular item on her menu, as an example.
“We used to sell one or two 40 pound cases a week. They used to be $40 a case until they skyrocketed to over $150 for the same amount,” she said.
Government regulation was equally a struggle for industries like Allegheny Wood Products who hosted the field haring and the coal industry. Testifying on the struggles for coal was Jamie Ward, Manager of the Itman Prep Plant in Wyoming County for Consol Energy.
“The coal industry is consistently under pressure from Washington which makes it hard to do business and provide the materials needed to make steel and affordable electricity,” he told the Committee. “Federal agencies make it difficult for operators to even get off the ground, especially when agencies make the rules that are very hard to follow.”
Wiley McDade co-owner of Devil’s Due Distillery in Kearneysville said breakdowns in the supply chain, rising fuel prices, and difficulty in getting raw materials made it hard for his business to make ends meet at times in recent years.
“We started business in 2021 and diesel prices were in the two-dollar range. Factories were producing at or near capacity and warehouses were full. Choice in products was plentiful. Much has changed in the past two years,” he said.
McDade’s company relies on glassware to bottle their product, wooden barrels to store and age their product, and a grain to produce the whiskey. The supply of all of raw materials has increased in cost for a variety of factors and the already narrow profit margin had become even more narrow.
McDade as well lamented the difficulty in finding workers who could afford to live in the area with skyrocketing costs for homes or rent.
The struggle for workers was a problem all four members of the panel brought up in their discussion. Each indicated the numerous stimulus checks and relief programs offered during the pandemic had created a disincentive to work.
“It put businesses that continued to operate in a position of competing against the government for employees,” said Tom Plaugher, Vice President of Operations for Allegheny Wood Products who hosted the event.
“As the pandemic went on, we had employees coming to us for every reason to try and get out of work to be eligible for those enhanced unemployment benefits when they realized they could actually make more money staying at home than they could coming to work,” he added.
Others on the committee noted many of those enhanced benefit programs, which originated during the pandemic, have since ended. Plaugher and other members acknowledged those programs were phased out, but said the negative impact on the workforce remained.
The Ways and Means Committee intends to conduct similar hearings across America in the weeks ahead to continue to hear directly from business operators and their struggles in the present economic situation.