U.S. Senator lays blame for inflation, worker shortage on Biden Administration
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PILOT GROVE – U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst made a stop on her 99-county tour across the state at Steffensmeier Welding & Mfg. on Wednesday to take a look at one of Lee County’s most prominent woman-owned manufacturing facilities.
Ernst (R-Iowa) toured the facility with owner Jenny Steffensmeier and her daughter Rachel Steffensmeier and talked about the current condition of the workforce and how a Goldman-Sachs program helped groom Jenny for running the company.
Ernst, who sits on the Senate Small Business Committee, is also promoting her Empowering Women in Small Business Act.
The bill would increase access to venture capital financing for women-owned small businesses through SBA-certified Small Business Investment Corporations (SBICs) and hold federal agencies accountable for meeting federal contracting obligations under current law for women-owned small businesses.
It also requires a report from these agencies on the impact of inflation and supply chain disruptions on women-owned small businesses over the last three years, recommendations to increase access to capital, and to identify additional federal contract opportunities for women-owned small businesses.
“We are really trying to work in those areas and get the word out that there are various programs and resources available,” Ernst said.
She said the federal government and state governments have different areas that they utilize to help encourage small business growth.
State Sen. Jeff Reichman said with the state going to a flat tax, businesses will be able to take advantage of the new tax structures to free up capital for investment.
“We’ve done some things at the state level this session, going to a flat tax. It takes Iowa from one of the heaviest tax states to a top-five state, so that will help businesses as well,” he said.
Ernst talked with Mark Hermes on the tour. Hermes said the workforce is struggling with worker skills and getting qualified candidates who have basic skills to start a job in manufacturing.
The junior senator from Iowa said there are a number of solutions to the problem, but they have to be identified and tackled.
“Every community is little bit different and every employer is a bit different. It does have to be not just a local solution, but partnering with state and federal government,” she said.
She said occupations like truck driving require different licensing, a move by the federal government that wasn’t timed well.
“There’s additional requirements now that the federal government has put on those that want to be truck drivers at a time when we have a desperate need for truck drivers,” she said.
“So the federal government needs to step back a little bit. We want to make sure that drivers are safe of course and qualified, but we seem to put more hurdles out there when we should be finding ways to make it easier to go into an occupation.”
Education is another way to reach students and make sure employers are getting into the schools to show students alternatives to the four-year degree.
“There’s a lot we can do, we just need to make sure we’re not getting in the way,” Ernst said.
Steffensmeier said it’s less of a qualification issue, but a numbers issue.
“It’s the bodies first. I feel because we’re smaller, it’s easier for us to train. It’s getting the motivated folks here and then having people that can train train, and then retain them,” she said.
Steffensmeier said she was excited about the Career Advantage Center that’s getting going in the Lee County Economic Development Group’s new facilities in Montrose.
“Super exciting getting kids exposed to the opportunities that come with these skilled trades,” she said.
Reichman said the state continues to lose those students to other states.
With the country looking at inflationary pressures of close to 8.5% in the first quarter, Ernst said that will make things tougher on business owners.
Ernst said she lays that pressure squarely on the Biden Administration.
“The federal government has spent trillions of dollars over the course of the last couple of years. Dumping all that money into an economy that doesn’t have the goods and services available has causes part of that inflation,” she said.
“There’s so many issues that are contributing to that inflation and we’ve to got to take a step back and stop so much federal spending.”
Steffensmeier asked Ernst what her thoughts were on reauthorizing the SBA. Ernst said there is great opportunity.
“It has proven to be a very important part of the federal government in enabling small businesses across the United States,” Ernst said.
Steffensmeier is a graduate of the Goldman-Sachs Small Businesses program in 2019 and thanked Ernst for her work to address challenges faced by small businesses in Iowa.
“Small business owners, like Jenny, are the backbone of Iowa’s economy and personify the determination, ingenuity, and hard-work that drive our state’s economy,” Ernst said.
“As a member of the Senate Small Business Committee, I am constantly looking for ways to support our small businesses so they can meet the challenges of today’s economy. That’s why I just recently put forward a measure to empower women small business owners through increasing their access to capital and ensuring federal contracting policies are being followed.”
Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing, Inc. provides its customers with high-quality laser cut, machined, welded, and fabricated products. As the owner of the company, Jenny has earned Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification.