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fulton forde - boulted bread

Fulton Forde (photo by Ana Pardo).

As a follow up to National #WageWeek, the Progressive Pulse is highlighting the work of local business leaders who are raising the wage floor for their employees. This blog post is the second in that series, and represents an interview with bakery owner Fulton Forde.

Forde and his partners Sam Kirkpatrick and Josh Bellamy own Boulted Bread, a small, 9-employee bakery in South Raleigh which opened a formal store front a year ago this week. The wage floor for Boulted Bread employees has been set at $10.50/hr since the business began.

Q: How did you make the decision to set your wage floor above the minimum?

A: We made the decision with our first hire, Meg. We talked a lot about a living wage, and it’s something I always had on my mind. Morality is a big part of the business – be it from sourcing, or process, every part – so we wanted the way we treat our employees to be in line with the products that we’re trying to sell. Coming up with a wage floor significantly over minimum was [important to] fitting the moral structure of the business.

Q: What benefits do you see as a business owner from having a higher base wage?

A: We want everyone to feel like they’re a part of the business, not just an employee. When the business benefits, we want [our employees] to benefit. So everyone who works here sees that we’re a little busier every week, and everyone’s wage is going up. We also want everyone to see that this is more than a job you have for a few months or a year. We’re here every day and we’re doing the same things. It’s simple work, but for us it’s tied to a whole lifestyle that we want and the morals of the business. Even in our first year we’ve been sure to take a couple of weeks off, and we’re moving forward with benefits in general. We want people to feel involved, receive the benefit of the [success of] the business and feel like this can be a long-term opportunity for them. We don’t have anyone who looks like they’re going to be, you know, escaping. When you start people off with that reciprocal respect, they’re willing to do more, and it’s easier to pay them more from there, because they have more responsibilities all the time. It leads to everyone representing the business well when they’re here, and when they’re not here, and ultimately greater success for everyone.

Q: How do you see your higher wage floor impacting your business in the long-run?

A: We started off having three owners, and we’re all really heavily involved. It’s all about dispersing the responsibility. That’s definitely one of our end-goals, having responsible employees who are capable of taking on some of the burden [of running the business]. There are so many people that I see really struggling, that really have a super-difficult life. Our employees are not; we’ve really taken steps to make [working here] livable. In the future, we plan to continue to increase pay, and we’re also working on some benefits like paid time off, simple IRA matching, possibly health insurance.

I think every business owner needs more free time even at their own business to create new things or research their product or service and see how they can make it better. So even if you’re addicted to work and want to be at work all the time, free time at work is really powerful, and can easily turn into more profitability if that’s what you’re after. We still work a lot, but now we have more time to really investigate things like better sourcing, better products. It wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have employees who we trusted, who worked hard and were rewarded.

This interview has been edited for length.

Commentary

Glowing computer screens, florescent lights, spreadsheets, graphs and charts. That’s how many of us spend our day. In the age of instant information, we rely on numbers and statistics and reports to paint pictures of the world that lies beyond the view of our office window. And we’ve gotten good at it. We understand wage and employment trends and we can measure equality and growth.

Despite the growing capacity to track and measure and capture data, we’re still failing to understand the whole picture. This is especially true when it comes to understanding North Carolina’s small and rural communities. The voices from these communities are often absent from the problem solving table. As a result, decisions are typically made on behalf of these communities based off of our imperfect understanding of what their needs and wants truly are.

Last week I enjoyed some time outside of the office and beyond the Triangle. I walked on a wooden suspension bridge that spans the Tar River, traced the Greenway on a map that connected the River to downtown, and heard about the efforts to revitalize the downtown and local economy through attracting private capital and investing public dollars.

I was in Rocky Mount. I was excited to see the kinds of ways that grassroots leaders, city officials and planners and business owners are reimagining their city and with it the region.

Over the past few years, Edgecombe and Nash counties have received national notoriety for their crime rates and poverty levels. And while these counties face very real difficulties, the negative stories do not represent the reality of the entire region or the recent efforts that are beginning to bear fruit. Residents and local leaders are beginning to take back the narrative of their community.

Residents of Nash and Edgecombe have launched an effort to take their name back and tell their own stories of their communities, one that moves beyond statistics and fear toward collaboration and hope. In 2013, a citizen group, called The Positive Image Action Group, was formed to combat those negative images and to tell the story of their hometown from their perspective. Earlier this month, the group launched the first phase of a campaign to take back the name of the twin counties.

“Twin Counties – Here’s to Success” is a marketing campaign designed to highlight the positive and promising stories of citizens and business in Edgecombe and Nash County. Read More

Commentary
greg hatem - empire

Greg Hatem (photo by Ana Pardo).

As a follow up to National #WageWeek, the Progressive Pulse is highlighting the work of local business leaders who are raising the wage floor for their employees. This blog post is the first in the series, and represents an interview with Greg Hatem, owner of Empire Properties and Empire Eats in downtown Raleigh. Hatem worked with his staff over the past year to raise the wage floor to $10.15 for all 550 employees across his companies.

Q: When did Empire decide to prioritize raising the wage floor?

A: “Creating a long-term relationship with our employees has always been important. About 8 months ago we committed to getting it done within a year. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t just because of financial issues. We had legacy employees, where when we started looking we realized someone had a wage because of when they were hired, and then you’re bringing somebody else on at a different wage. So we had to slowly equilibrate that and make sure that we bring new people on at a good salary. We did it position-by-position and restaurant-by-restaurant, and we finished it up last month.”

Q: What were the underpinning values behind the company’s decision?

A: “It’s not just about work or a job, it’s about people and culture. What we value most are people that believe in the mission and the culture, and we want to make sure there’s a relationship. It’s not just an employer-employee relationship; we have people trying to help us create our vision, and in return we have a responsibility to help them create their vision and take care of their families. So it’s very symbiotic.”

“It was something we believed was possible if we had time enough to plan for it. That’s why we gave ourselves a 12-month window to do it strategically. Our belief is we end up working with folks that are more productive, who are happier, their life situation is better. What you’re really doing is investing in your people, and that has a return in itself. It’s just smart business to take care of the people around you, because that is the core of your business. If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your guests. It’s not an expense, it’s an investment.”

Q: What was the reaction from your employees when they learned of the changes?

A: “We had a huge response from [employees] when we did it, because they knew we cared. I actually had one of the guys in the kitchen give me a hug because it meant that much to him. We have so many people that have been with us for 3, 5, 10 years. We’re there for each other.”

Q: What advice would you give to other business owners considering a similar move?

“Invest in your people. Invest in them in the day-to-day […] and help them become better at their job. When you do that, you create a better environment for your guests, and that’s the virtuous cycle.”

This interview has been edited for brevity.

NC Budget and Tax Center

During yesterday’s tax reform debate on the House floor, we heard a lot about the need to cut personal income taxes so that small businesses can create jobs and the economy can grow.  This is a growing refrain among advocates for tax cuts for the wealthy, so common in fact, that policymakers made it once before—in 2011, when they passed an exemption of business pass through income, an exemption that they are now repealing (apparently the tax cut didn’t work).

As with many of the claims made during the debate about taxes this session, the idea that personal income tax cuts spur job creation is just not borne out by the facts.

Personal income tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers do not target actual small business job creators. Only 2.7 percent of personal income taxpayers are owners of small businesses that have employees, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. Moreover, profits from small businesses with paid employees account for less than 4 percent of the total income earned by households with incomes over $100,000 nationally.  There is no evidence that businesses owned by high income taxpayers have more employees than those owned by lower income taxpayers, and as a result, no reason to provide tax cuts that disproportionately benefit those with the highest incomes.  And for many small business owners of any income level, there is often limited interest in growing the size of their business—consider a family restaurant, for example—so again, cutting these business’s won’t lead to job creation.

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Uncategorized

Today The Support Center released a new report titled “Community Development Financial Institutions in North Carolina: Creating Jobs and Community Economic Development,” which looks at the role of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in North Carolina’s economy. CDFIs were established in the 1990s under the US Department of Treasury’s CDFI Fund. These community-based financial institutions provide loans and financial services aimed at revitalizing the nation’s underserved and distressed communities. In North Carolina, there are 17 CDFIs including 10 loan funds, five credit unions, one venture capital fund, and one bank. CDFI banks and credit unions provide affordable personal and business financial services to those who might not be able to access these services through traditional banks. CDFI loan and venture capital funds expand access to capital for small businesses, microenterprises, commercial and residential real estate development (including affordable housing), home purchases, and consumer loans.

As traditional banks pull back from lending, tighten their lending standards, and close down many of their branches, CDFIs have stepped in to fill the gap. In 2010, the 17 CDFIs in North Carolina helped to finance 33,000 businesses and developments that have created 3,100 jobs across the state. CDFIs also provide technical assistance and financial literacy training to help their members and borrowers improve their financial management skills in the long-run. Read More