Labor Shortages Have Small Businesses Singing the Blues at Memphis Roundtable

By Janis Reyes, Assistant Chief Counsel

Memphis is known as the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll, where you can visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate and listen to late night jam sessions on Beale Street.  Small businesses attending Advocacy’s Regulatory Reform Roundtable in Memphis in June were discussing their own regulatory blues, expressing concern about uncertainty that they are face in the present business climate.

“The chaotic nature of regulations hurts business,” said a small construction company owner. “When you don’t know where things are going to be with tariffs or labor or other issues, you don’t know how to plan,” another business executive stated. He identified the lack of skilled labor as the biggest issue in the construction industry and said that it is the cause of skyrocketing costs. He recommended common sense immigration reform that will help small businesses grow. 

A representative from the golf course industry lamented that they cannot find skilled labor to work at golf courses in the South, even with starting wages at $9 to $20 per hour.  Employers that traditionally used the H-2B program to obtain guest workers are now unable to use this program because it is so unreliable. For example, an employer who requests 20 workers will only get two to three workers due to restrictions on the numbers of H-2B workers allowed in a given year. Another small business providing senior support and home health care to the elderly stated she has lost employees who have returned to school to get better paying jobs in this growing economy.  One human resources consultant gave suggestions on how the Department of Labor could fund workforce development and training to better meet these labor needs.  

Small business manufacturers attending the roundtable were alarmed by the recent tariffs on Chinese goods. They are concerned that the manufacturing industry is not getting government subsidies to offset these costs as is being done for the agriculture industry.  For example, one retailer of children’s items sells Chinese products that are targeted in the next round of tariffs. The business owner believes that it doesn’t have the ability to respond quickly, and it will be out of business if a 25 percent increase is imposed.  Another small manufacturing company making tractor attachments and other agricultural machinery stated that tariffs are negatively affecting their growth rate and the number of employees they have hired in the last few years.  They have filed multiple applications to be excluded from tariff requirements, but this paperwork is costly and burdensome to complete. 

The Memphis roundtable provided for a spirited discussion led by small businesses, trade association representatives, and congressional district office staff. Attendees expressed appreciation for the opportunity to provide input.  Advocacy will follow up on these issues to ensure that these small business voices are heard in Washington, D.C., as federal agencies consider which regulations are in need of reform.

Advocacy was in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi for Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables June 4-6.

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Janis Reyes is the Assistant Chief Counsel for Labor and Immigration.  She can be reached at