Apr 30, 2015 - 9:00am

Emily’s Latest Lesson: The Truth about Energy Regulations

Part of an ongoing series on Emily, a rising entrepreneur 

Emily was learning on the job as she grew her graphics business – and sometimes those day-to-day lessons popped up at the least expected moments.

That was the case during a recent client conversation that morphed into a tutorial about energy policy and the government.

The meeting started out simple enough, and Emily had a good feeling about working with Tony and his company, Rapid651 Sign & Graphics, a custom sign manufacturing business in St. Paul. The company was picking up steam by focusing on high quality design and construction at a reasonable price.

In fact, things were going so well that Tony needed to contract out work to another graphic designer, on top of the two full-timer designers he already employed. That’s where Emily came in.

“I’m excited about working with Tony and his team,” Emily says. “I’m glad to pick up another contract that looks like it’ll be a steady flow of work, of course, but I also like the fact that Tony is really dedicated to providing his customers with very sophisticated, compelling designs for logos and signs.”

The conversation about contract terms, work arrangements and the next steps quickly turned into a talk about the complications that come with running a small business.

Tony first asked Emily how her freelance graphic design business was going. She said things were going well but that she was frustrated by the time and expense that went toward tasks like keeping track of her taxes and getting her health insurance squared away.

“Get used to it,” Tony said with a grim laugh. “It doesn’t get any easier. The longer you’re at it and the bigger you get, the more it feels like you’ve just got a target on your back for another mandate or regulation from the government.”

Tony’s business was only 6 years old, and he now employed 12 people. That meant he was well below the threshold for many of the most intrusive government regulations, but he worried about how he could expand his business and workforce in the years to come.

“We’ve always tried to offer a better product at a competitive price, which is tough,” Tony told Emily. “I operate on a pretty narrow margin, and I can’t just pass along every increase in costs to my customers without losing business.”

One of Tony’s biggest cost centers, he said, was the cost of utilities. A small manufacturing concern like his runs up a pretty hefty electric bill, and he was keeping a close eye on new carbon regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that he expects will only drive his costs higher.

“I never thought I’d care about energy policy, but once I started paying those utility bills for the factory every month, I got real interested real fast,” Tony told Emily. “The Obama administration has some kind of crusade against power plants that run on coal, and the EPA’s carbon regulations are going to push a lot of those plants to shut down. And I know who is going to pay the price: consumers.”

He added: “I guess it could be worse, though. At least I’m not in California or New York, where the costs are even higher.”

Emily had never thought of it that way. She always thought it sounded like a good idea when politicians talked about “clean energy.” Who wouldn’t want that?

But based on what she was learning, it seemed like that was more easily said than done — and in the meantime, government regulations would drive up costs for business and consumers while making energy service less reliable.

“It’s funny how you don’t think about these things so much when you’re an employee,” Emily says. “You just kind of figure someone’s taking care of all that stuff like paying the bills and keeping the lights on.

“But once you start running your own business, it really hits home how things like taxes and regulations can have these effects on smaller businesses and make it tough for them to grow,” she continues. “It makes you wonder — is anyone in the government even thinking about the consequences of what they’re doing?”

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