Bay Co. small business owners react to minimum wage decision

Bay County

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Last week, Florida voters chose to pass amendment two, gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by September, 2026.

On Monday, local economic development leaders said there are pros and cons to the change when it comes to businesses and employees alike.

Bay Economic Development Alliance President, Becca Hardin, said she believes the burden will be felt most by the area’s small businesses.

In Downtown Panama City, small business owner Greg Snow said he was surprised to learn the voters passed the amendment.

“When I first heard the news about it, the first thing I did was text a friend who owns a store similar to us in Fort Walton and said ‘well how do we figure out how to do self-checkout?’” he said on Monday. “Is that the option? Do small businesses add self-checkout just like a lot of the big businesses do?”

He said he feels the change will be manageable, but not without taking a hard look at his budget, staffing, hours and other expenses. He added that with the change taking place state-wide, he expects there to be widespread price increases for supplies and products as others also adjust. 

“The costs that are associated in making something are passed onto us, or shipping or trucking or any of that will pass onto us,” he said. “We’re just going to have to look at where we’re spending our payroll dollars.”

Down the road at Tally-Ho on Harrison Avenue, owner Johnny Branch said they’ll have to make tough decisions.

“We’re going to probably, number one, not hire any part-time people,” Branch said. “No school-kids, because at $15 an hour we just can’t compensate enough to pay that.”

Hardin, Snow, Branch and Bay County Chamber of Commerce President, Carol Roberts, all said that they think it is a good thing that the change is happening incrementally over the next six years rather than all at once. 

However, Hardin said only time will tell the real impacts it will have on the community. 

“It is a good thing when people are getting paid, people have more money they can put in the banks and more money they can put back into our local economy,” she said. “But, it will be a challenge for companies and they’ll just have to re-evaluate how they want to conduct their business plan.”

She said it will also be more challenging to attract new companies to the area, but not impossible. 

“We’re really going to have to sell the assets that we have in our community as well as the workforce opportunities that we have here,” she said.

Hardin is on a task force along with representatives from other community economic development agencies across the state working on business-attracting incentives to pitch to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the next legislative session. 

She said that while the wage increase does make it harder for Florida to compete for business with other states in the sunbelt with more competitive wages, over time, they believe the increase will help level out the playing field when it comes to attracting companies. Hardin said that the higher wages will attract more of the workforce, driving other states’ wages up to compete in return. 

Snow said he is overall optimistic, but the best thing that residents can do to help off-set it is to ‘shop small’ year-round. 

“Just support your local businesses as often as you can,” he said.

Florida’s minimum wage will increase to $10 in September, 2021, and will increase a dollar a year each September until it reaches $15 in 2026.

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