Desloge Chamber of Commerce members learned about resources available to small businesses when Janey Radford of Belgrade State Bank served as guest speaker at the civic organization’s monthly luncheon held Tuesday at Desloge VFW Post 2426.

Radford, who up until recently was executive director of the Southeast Economic Development Fund (SEED$) in Park Hills, now serves as small business specialist at the bank’s Potosi branch. She also sits on the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) Board of Directors.

Promising a relaxed and informal time together, Radford ran through a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the concerns of small businesses, as well as people, politicians and programs that can be contacted when the need arises.

“A couple of months ago, the MRPC planning committee asked me to put together some challenges that I felt were facing small businesses today,” she said. “I went to our small businesses — I know a lot of them —and this is based on the feedback that they gave me. Some of these problems are very large and complex and can not be fixed overnight.”

One of the top challenges covered by Radford included broadband availability and quality.

“With broadband, some of the issues and challenges that we face are that it’s not reliable or we don’t have it, our connectivity speed and affordability,” she said. “When you are a small business in a rural town and you don’t have enough traffic to make your brick and mortar store work as much as you need it to, you rely on online sales — and that is not always easy to do when you literally have dial-up speed connections."

Radford shared several pertinent statistics with the chamber regarding internet access.

“Missouri is the 42nd most connected state in the nation — and I don’t mean that in a good way,” she said. “We are almost at the bottom. Eighty-eight percent of Missourians have access to 10 mbps internet service from 236 different broadband providers. In Washington County I think we have three of those.

“There are 1 million people in Missouri that have access to only one wired provider, leaving them with no options to switch. I don’t know about you, but I pay $75 a month for subpar internet service. It’s a pretty hefty fee, but I’m thankful to have it.

“Another 439,000 people don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live. You may not find that in the city of Desloge, but you’ve got some of your folks out in the country that this is exactly what they deal with. And when I say ‘country,’ sometimes that means literally less than a mile out of town.

Radford noted that, since 2011, access to a wired connection of at least 10 mbps has improved little — from 86.6 percent to 87.8 percent.

“We are definitely a little stunted there,” she said. “Missouri Farm Bureau decided this was something that needed to be addressed in a big way. Actually, there was a grant funded a few years ago called, ‘Missouri Broadband Now’ and all the different regional planning commissions across the state decided to put together a strategic initiative to move our broadband service forward. The problem was a state plan incorporating all of those was never developed and it just kind of — fell. Nothing was done with it.”

“At this time, they are now being addressed by the Missouri Broadband Initiative Workgroup. Kudos to Missouri Farm Bureau for taking the initiative to hire Janie Dunning to lead the way. Janie spent many years at USDA Rural Development and is well aware of the challenges we face in rural Missouri.”

According to Radford, the workgroup is “working hard for progress” and encouraging the state to take action.

“If you have stories that really give a clear picture of the problem, or stories about how having broadband service has made a difference in your business, they want to know,” she said.

Radford mentioned a second challenge faced by small businesses in the state — workforce.

“There are the little things like being on time and what have you — dressing appropriately,” she said. “There’s also things like, when they are hired, they don’t show up on the first day of work. They change their mind. You call them in for an interview and they change their mind.”

Radford offered several suggestions to improve the region’s workforce for economic development:

— Fully funding the Foundation Fund for Public Education and stop cutting dollars for education in Missouri.

— Supporting development of trade schools that teach skills because not everyone wants to go to college.

— Holding school from Labor Day through Memorial Day because the current schedule of starting in mid-August has a negative impact on the region’s tourism trade.

— Improving workforce readiness of the region’s K-12 students and adult population by increasing the number of internships, work co-op programs and other initiatives with a focus on soft skills and employability.

The third area of concern mentioned by Radford are burdensome regulations.

“Unnecessary government regulation stands as small business owners’ second most pressing issue, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB),” she said. “Small businesses have to deal with paying federal taxes on business income; tax complexity; frequent changes in federal tax laws and rules; property taxes; and state taxes on business income.

“To put the tax issue into perspective, NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan wrote an article on tax reform in the Wall Street Journal that read: ‘What gets lost in the [tax reform] conversation is that three-quarters of American small businesses pay taxes as individuals. Their top federal rate is 43.3 percent, which is substantially higher than the current top rate for large multinational firms. When state burdens are added, small businesses are sending close to half their income to the tax man.’”

The next chamber meeting is set for noon Dec. 5 at Desloge City Hall, located at 300 N. Lincoln Drive.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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