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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Jobs, economy focus of Blunt's meeting in Monett

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Monett fifth grader Cale Harper and his father, Mark Harper, talk to Congressman Roy Blunt. [Suzy MeElmurry, photo]
Several Monett business and industry representatives shared concerns about current issues with Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt during a small business roundtable held at the Monett Chamber of Commerce on Saturday.

Monett was one of several stops made by Blunt this week. Today, Blunt is meeting with bankers in Springfield and Joplin, and invitations have been extended to Monett firms to participate.

"Roy believes these kinds of discussions with people involved in issues, job creation and the economic impact of policies on business are the kinds of people Congress should be talking to," said Blunt aide Dan Wadlington. "Hearing them, Roy can say this is what people who live it every day, and risk their livelihood to create jobs and keep a business running. These are the people who know what it's like."

Consumer confidence was a concern raised by some Monett business owners. Steve and Kathy Skaggs, of Blessings Books and Gifts, talked about how the cost of fuel affects their ability to order more inventory for their business.

Mark Harper, from WinTech, and Jack Schulz, from Clark Industries, spoke about two strategies passed in Jefferson City that have helped local industries.

The Shared Work Program has allowed companies to manage work hours to match sales needs. In a period of low sales, companies have been able to institute a flex schedule of lay-offs if there is enough work for employees for at least two days a week but no more than four. The law has allowed the state to provide unemployment compensation spread out over 26 weeks, so companies can retain talented employees, keeping them eligible for benefits like health insurance. When orders ramp up, manufacturers can then bring employees back to work fulltime.

"This has been a big program for companies to hold on to employees and meet their cash flow needs while providing some compensation from the state," said Harper. "It's a win-win. Roy has heard of it Jack Schulz and I are very positive on the program."

Discussions are underway in Jefferson City to extend the Shared Work Program over a full year. Harper said WinTech has been close to having some employees meeting the full 26 weeks of eligibility.

Blunt was also interested in hearing how local industries had benefitted from the Southwest Area Manufacturers Association (SAMA) health consortium. Missouri law has allowed manufacturers to form a healthcare consortium like school districts. Small and large manufacturers can have from five to 500 employees and still qualify to bid as a group for coverage.

Because of the program, Harper said WinTech has been able to maintain the cost of coverage for employees without diluting the level of care. The insurance carrier may have changed, he said, but the group is large enough to get major providers to bid against each other for the business.

Harper and Schulz emphasized such an approach could be a piece of the solution for national healthcare policy. Blunt said Missouri may be the only state using the approach and favored expanding the strategy.

Concern was also expressed over the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, which is believed to be a strategy that would take away the rights of businesses to a secret election over unionization. The issue was viewed as a major concern by all manufacturers.

Those present also talked about trying to become less dependent on foreign oil while exploring domestic oil and other forms of energy in the United States.

Support was voiced for more bi-partisan work on legislation and less finger pointing. Concern was voiced over the large portion of the national debt held by China and Japan. In light of the fragile state of the economic recovery, some felt a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks could be more devastating today.

Blunt voiced a more positive view of the year ahead and his appreciation to the small group that came to the Saturday session. The setting offered a free exchange of views and valuable perspectives. Blunt said both he and U.S. Senator Kit Bond would be traveling through the area for several days gathering information to help their work in Washington.

One opportunity presented by the meeting was a chance to see the government at work. Harper's son, Cale, a Monett fifth grader, has been studying government through web pages geared toward young viewers.

With Cale's interest in government growing and school curriculum not focusing on government until the middle school level, his father suggested Cale accompany him to the Saturday meeting and "participate in the real world," which Cale did.

"It's been a fun time and a good opportunity for Cale," Harper said. "He's done nothing but talk about it since."

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