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Gov. Whitmer visits Trenton for roundtable talk on challenges small business owners face – The News Herald

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When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives her virtual State of the State address on Jan. 26, she will do so with a good deal of input from area business owners after her sit-down visit in Trenton.

Whitmer visited the Westfield Activities Center recently and invited a variety of business owners to a roundtable discussion on the challenges they face.

About 14 business owners in and around the Downriver area were represented at the table, from James Brandon, owner of Fat Daddy’s Chicken & Waffles in Riverview, to Monica and Gerardo Melgarejo, owners of Atwater Street Tacos in Flat Rock; and from Monica Mawari, owner of the Trenton Pharmacy to Diane Parker, owner of Biggby Coffee, concerns were heard.

Whitmer made Trenton one of her final stops on what has been described as “a listening tour.”

State Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) speaks with Dr. Lucretia Greear, owner of the Woodhaven Animal Hospital at the roundtable discussion on the challenges small businesses face. The discussion was led by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Trenton recently. (Jackie Martin — The News-Herald)

She listened as owners  took turns speaking on how their various challenges, many presented by the pandemic and some by the leverage big store chain stores have over smaller business operations.

Worker shortage and the rising costs of food were also two major topics mentioned as having a significant impact.

While there were many established businesses that could not weather the storm and stay afloat during the pandemic, Whitmer heard from owners who have managed to survive.

Despite the fact Whitmer has sat through about seven of these types of discussions around the state, the governor said it was important to her to hear voices from the Downriver communities.

She spoke with The News-Herald to detail what stood out to her about her visit Downriver.

“I think one of the universal truths as we’re coming out of this pandemic, is business owners are looking for employees,” Whitmer said. “It’s not unique to Downriver and it’s not unique to Michigan. This is a global problem. As I talk to my colleagues I know every state is feeling this as well.”

The governor said the work that her administration has done in state government to expand child care efforts for people at free or low cost and to get COVID-19 vaccinations are things that are critically important to getting parents back into the workforce.

“If your child care costs more than the paycheck you’re making, a rational person is going to stay home and take care of their kids,” Whitmer said. “This is an important place where equity, equality and business environment all collide and that’s why we spend so much time and energy around it.”

She called small businesses the “backbone of our economy and the lifeblood or our community.”

Whitmer said it was awesome to sit among the business owners and hear from the people who have just started not one, but several businesses in this difficult climate.

Everyone in attendance, she said, came to the conversation with a genuine interest in improving the environment not just for themselves, but for their community and state.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate their candor and them sharing their stories with me,” Whitmer said.

She encouraged owners to reach out to her with feedback, saying no matter what the size of the business, they still have a voice and it will be heard.

Small business owners wear a lot of hats, she said, and often don’t have time to offer input.

She noted that her husband was a small business owner all of his career and she knows that there are incredible pressures that come when owners are taking care of employees, customers and running a business all while learning on the job.

“I have a great deal of respect for these entrepreneurs,” she said. “I want to make Michigan a place where anyone with a great idea can navigate and be successful.”

When asked if there was anything she heard at the roundtable that she has not heard in other locations around the state, Whitmer pulled out a couple of pages of notes that she had taken during the discussion and highlighted one person in particular.

“We had a veterinarian here and people, during a pandemic, don’t necessarily think of the veterinarian who is showing up every day and working all day long,” the governor said. “They are getting more pets in the middle of the pandemic and people don’t realize how much more work that is and how stressful that job is. I thought that was a story that no one has given a voice to yet, and I appreciate that.”

Whitmer said she has taken notes at all of the stops.

They will play a factor in how she moves forward with the 2022-23 budget.

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