With infrastructure as a top policy priority for the White House and recent momentum in state legislatures, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hopeful Congress will pass an infrastructure bill this year – a move that could profoundly impact the small business community.
From product damage and vehicle maintenance to employee safety, small business owners are dealing with the day-to-day costs and concerns of stalled infrastructure investment. There has been some movement at the state level, with Ohio, Alabama, and Arkansas passing gas tax legislation in 2019 to help fund infrastructure work, but Congress has remained stagnant on any overarching federal infrastructure legislation.
“Small business owners are more affected by inaction in the infrastructure area and can be the greatest beneficiaries of infrastructure investment made by all levels of government,” Ed Mortimer, the U.S. Chamber’s vice president of transportation infrastructure policy, said during a press call featuring three small business owners. Of the U.S. Chambers’ roughly 3 million members, 96% are companies with less than 100 employees and 75 percent have less than 10.
Karen Olson Beenken, president and CEO of Blue Rock Companies, a beverage distributor in Montana, expressed concern for the safety of her employees and the cost of maintenance of her 93-truck fleet – 40 of which are licensed with the Department of Transportation.
On average, Beenken’s employees drive one million miles per year, causing her concern for their welfare. “This infrastructure bill is important to us for ultimately the safety and efficiency of our employees and company.”
“The infrastructure has definitely played a part in our bottom line,” Daniel Speer, vice president of Case Design Remodeling in Washington D.C. said. Congestion and lack of maintenance in the Beltway causes not only business inefficiencies, but gives his drivers regular stress and anxiety when traveling.
Congestion in the Northeast has also increased costs for Jim Jalbert, president and owner of C&J Bus Lines in New Hampshire. As a customer-centric small business, Jalbert does everything he can to keep buses operating on schedule for his passengers. But congestion in and out of the Boston metro area has required additional buses on the route and more manpower in order to make sure the vehicles are entering the city and leaving on time.
“Why aren’t we as a country, why aren’t we as states, investing in the maintenance and preservation of our existing infrastructure?” Jalbert asked. “And what are we doing in terms of planning for the future?”