Small Business Roundtable in Bangor, Maine, Focuses on Labor Force and Regulatory Issues
By Bruce Lundegren, Assistant Chief Counsel
A common topic at many of the SBA Office of Advocacy’s Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables has been labor force concerns and the current difficulty of small businesses to attract and retain qualified workers. Maine was no exception. Advocacy’s recent meeting in Bangor, Maine, began with a hotel-resort owner complaining that wages are rising faster than revenues and that the situation was not sustainable. She said that rising labor costs were driving automation, such as replacing wait staff with computer tablets, and would ultimately cost jobs. She believed that raising the minimum wage would make the situation worse. She also cited transportation as an issue because many people (especially young people) cannot afford to live where the jobs are. She suggested the state should fund transportation options so workers can commute to resort areas. She also pointed to the caps on H2-B visas as a source of difficulty in bringing seasonal workers to tourist areas like Maine. She favored funding apprenticeship and other programs—such as “earn and learn” programs—to educate and train young people. Other small business owners echoed similar concerns throughout the meeting.
Next, a small residential builder who said he has been in business in Maine for 35 years said that regulations add about 25 percent to the cost of a home. He complained specifically about Davis-Bacon wage rates and the Department of Energy’s energy efficiency standards as adding to the cost of housing. He also mentioned environmental regulations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States rule, and other permitting costs as impediments to home construction. Another construction company owner noted that delays in issuing permits were a major business concern. Maine’s construction season is short, and projects have to be completed while the weather is still warm.
Another small business, representing telecommunications tower erectors, urged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to move forward on a comprehensive safety regulation for telecom tower erection and maintenance that mirrors new national consensus standards developed by the industry. This rulemaking was the subject of a recent small business panel involving OSHA, the SBA Office of Advocacy, and others. A small trucking company from the food service sector urged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to lower the age of commercial truck drivers from 21 to 18 because he could not find enough qualified drivers.
Premium cigar manufacturers were also represented at the roundtable. The owner of a small family-owned business that operates a combined antique shop and premium cigar store argued that their tobacco products should not be regulated under the Federal Drug Administration’s deeming rule because their products are made from all-natural leaves with no fillers. They said the FDA’s deeming rule would treat these custom cigars essentially the same as cigarettes even though they are very different and appeal to different customers (i.e., adults, not young people). They stated that FDA labeling and other requirements would make it infeasible to produce and sell these premium cigars.
It was a spirited meeting led by small businesses, trade association representatives, and area Congressional staff members. Attendees expressed appreciation for the opportunity to provide their input and said they hoped that government agencies would work to address these issues in a timely fashion.
Advocacy was in Bangor for Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables on July 16.
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Bruce Lundegren is an Assistant Chief Counsel for Advocacy whose portfolio includes safety, transportation, and security. Lundegren can be reached at email@example.com.