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Congresswoman Van Duyne Hosts Business Roundtable

Dallas – Congresswoman Beth Van Duyne kicked off her small business roundtable last week by expressing gratitude to the 22 business owners, entrepreneurs and city officials in attendance, but mostly she was thrilled not to be on Zoom.

“Wow,” Van Duyne said, smiling. “How nice it is to be in the same room?”

The former Irving mayor spent several minutes talking about the more stringent COVID-related restrictions still strangling Washington D.C. and how the Capitol is a different place these days.

“Until the end of January, we still didn’t have indoor dining,” Van Duyne said. “Now they are only open to 25 percent capacity. If you are out on the street without a mask, that’s a $1,000 fine. You wouldn’t recognize the Capital. It is shut down. I can’t tell you how great it is to be back home.”

Van Duyne assembled the roundtable to hear from small business owners first hand, asking how life was during the economic shutdowns and how life is now that things are beginning to ease a bit. Lasting nearly 90 minutes, the group brought up a number of concerns but kept circling back to whether raising the minimum wage to $15 would hurt small businesses (a resounding yes) and if the latest stimulus is needed (a resounding no).

Early in th discussion, attendees took turns thanking Van Duyne for her tough stand on the issues.

“I don’t want my representative going up there to win some popularity contest,” Kosse Maykus, owner of Maykus Homes, said. “Some of the things you do up there are unpopular, but effective for small business owners.”

Coppell Mayor Karen Hunt said few representatives are as “present, visible and approachable” as Van Duyne. “That is huge. We haven’t always had that.”

When the challenges of COVID-19 were discussed, the stories of financial and emotional struggle flowed. Some said they lost employees; others lost clients.

Susan Shaw, whose Shaw Insurance Agency remained open as an essential business, talked of how some of her employees “spiraled” during the pandemic. Many had young children at home, and the closing of schools caused all sorts of home and work life strains. Shaw said they took steps by putting their own protocols in place, including turning some offices into makeshift daycares where parents were able to bring their kids. For school-age children, they set them up with work spaces to continue virtual learning.

“The relief of the parents to know their kids were safe and able to continue school made a difference,” Shaw said. “From the early beginning I wanted to show my team that we’re all in this together and we needed to work together to make it all work.”

Van Duyne said she found many of the closings in Texas and around the country excessive. She complained that Washington leadership continues to “change the goal post” as to what the country needs to do to fully open every business.

“The goal was to flatten the curve, flatten the curve, flatten the curve.” Van Duyne said. “Okay, curve flatten. Now we’ve moved it to until we get vaccinations out. Okay, millions of vaccinations have gone out. Yet, we still won’t open.

“As a business owner, I don’t know how you plan on that. Is this how we will react to every single crisis that comes into our country? Just shut it down and tell everyone to go home? We need to come to a point where we say this is enough. At some point, we have to move forward and live our lives.”

Business owners were in unison for their disdain of a $15 minimum wage increase. They said a wage hike would force them to raise prices and actually cut staff, and urged Van Duyne to fight it tooth and nail. The group was just as irked over the $1.9 trillion Cares Act currently putting checks of up to $1400 into American homes. Several attendees questioned the logic of “paying people to stay home,” as one participant described it.

“I have open positions but can’t fill them,” Ian MacLean, owner and president of Highland Landscaping, said. “We keep hearing on the news about all these people unemployed, so why can’t I fill my open positions? We have to get America back into the workforce, to get offices open, or it is going to kill us. It’s not just bad for businesses and the economy. It’s bad for people getting paid extra to sit at home. They are becoming less relevant in the workforce. Their business relationships and skills are dwindling.”

“That’s why you saw every single Republican vote against the latest Care Act,” Van Duyne said. “This won’t do anything to open us back up or get schools back. When you are out of work for a year, when your business is shut down, you are losing your client base. You might have the brick and mortar, but you have to start all over again.”

Afterwards, Trasa Cobern, chair of the Small Business Advisory Board, said she was thrilled with the roundtable because “small business and entrepreneurs drive this country.”

“When they talked about having this, I thought it was such a great idea to actually be hearing from small business owners,” Cobern said. “Having a representative to listen to what we have to say and take it back to Washington is vital.”