Business owners at a roundtable hosted Thursday in Gary by the Republican National Committee said finding workers and dealing with inflation are the top issues they face today as they navigate the current economy.
About 50 people gathered at the Sole Café in Gary for the discussion featuring re-election contender Sen. Todd Young and First Congressional District candidate Jennifer-Ruth Green.
There were no other Republican candidates at the event; Lake County Republican Party Chairman Dan Dernulc, who is running himself to unseat Democratic State Rep. Michael Griffin, said he was unaware of it.
Young and Green was up against U.S. Representative Burgess Owens, R-Utah, a member of the Education and Workforce Committee, who also won re-election Nov. 8. Darquia Biffle, co-owner of Big Daddy’s BBQ and Sole Café in Gary, and Sean Jointer, owner of Righteous Enterprise Remodeling and Construction of Indianapolis, rounded out the panel.
Young faces a challenge from Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott, a Democrat and Independent James Scéniak, while Green challenges incumbent U.S. Representative Frank Mrvan, D-Highland.
Jointer said employees don’t feel as valuable when inflation is so high. Despite adjustments and wage increases, higher wages are not outpacing inflation and workers are not advancing, Jointer said. He said the pandemic had changed people’s attitudes towards work, and that access to materials and price volatility made it difficult to bid and complete work.
Biffle said finding people who want to work is a challenge. She said extra unemployment benefits and stimulus checks were keeping people out of work and causing her business to struggle. Big Daddy’s Bar-B-Que LLC, received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan for $126,300 in the first batch that was distributed in April 2020, according to ProPublica’s database. The program was intended to provide small businesses with payroll funds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, it had to close its Schererville site for about six months after failing to find workers. The cost of food and inconsistent access to produce has also caused issues, and Biffle said she’s had to raise prices and change menu items and recipes because sometimes produce isn’t available.
Young said business owners across the state struggle with the same issues.
“Inflation is by far the No. 1 issue on the minds of Hoosiers in every region of the state,” Young said.
He described inflation as a form of taxation on people on fixed or low incomes and said runaway spending policies were to blame.
“Stop spending trillions we don’t have on things we don’t need,” Young said. He criticized direct payments made to individuals under the American Rescue Plan Act as contributing to inflation and a lack of working people. He called for deregulation of business in general and the energy market in particular to help reduce fuel prices.
“It’s a matter of changing the way we think,” Green said. Young people need to learn that they can advance their lives through matriculation, enlistment, or employment, not just a college degree. She said she would work to help voters manage their expectations of what can be accomplished by seeking to understand the tools available to her to find a reasonable solution to issues affecting voters.
Aresenio Wright of Hammond, CEO of Preferred One Ambulance, said he had hoped to have the opportunity to ask candidates questions, but was overall happy with what he had heard.
“There is never a problem with words. The problem is with the action,” Wright said. He hopes that if the elected Greens will be able to achieve change.
Sharon Mallory of Gary, owner of SDM Investments, said she came to the event because she was a longtime black Republican in northwest Indiana and wanted to hear what Green had to say.
“I’m thrilled Jennifer Ruth Green is being transparent and telling the truth,” Mallory said.
The ills affecting Hoosiers will not be resolved overnight, Mallory said. She is fed up with Lake County career politicians who have become complacent, and she agrees with Green.
“We need to rethink what we do,” Mallory said.