GUEST OPINION: Aurora minimum wage increase a ‘rising tide’ for all boats

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I own a small local business, and I support a minimum wage increase in Aurora. As a member of the Aurora Business Advisory Council, I was the only vote in support of the minimum wage increase. Some of my colleagues find this shocking. I find it shocking that other businesses would NOT support this increase, when we could support our residents as well as our local businesses.

I started my compost collection service, Wompost, in 2018. I worked by myself for a full year before I hired my first employee.  Now we are a team of three. I always knew that I wanted to pay a living wage, and started my employees at $20/hour.  That’s higher than the max wage this change proposes – $17/hour by 2025.  I pay this wage as a for-profit business because I think it is the right thing to do, and smart business in the long run.

Others in the business community say that this will force many businesses to close, and have a devastating effect on our economy. They say that they would be forced to pass on the increased prices to their customers, and customers will take their business elsewhere rather than pay more. They would have to close. I’ve found the opposite to be true.

I was nervous, too, when I started paying employees and raised my prices last year.  I worried that customers would go back to throwing all their compostostable waste in the trash. Instead, more signed up than ever when we reopened. I’ve found my customers to be incredibly generous and understanding during these times. Some donated to sponsor other customers who had lost jobs, without even being asked. A third told me to keep their refunds for missed service. People truly want our local businesses to succeed. They won’t abandon local companies because of small price increases caused by a $0.28 additional raise next year. This pandemic has brought out the worst in many ways, but I’ve also seen incredible kindness and understanding.

On the other hand, this minimum wage increase actually helps small businesses that want to pay a living wage. It evens the playing field for all competitors. I’m the only compost collection company in Aurora, but I worry about the competition I face in my broader service area. Another company could come in, paying the minimum wage of $12 to my $20, and undercut my prices. Right now, there are so many vulnerable people out of work that they could easily hire someone for $12/hour. A higher minimum wage protects me, as a business that cares about my community, from a business that’s happy exploiting the system.

There is another simple and clear benefit from higher minimum wages for businesses.  More people will have money in their pockets to spend! 

It’s true that COVID is forcing many of my fellow businesses to close. I almost went out of business myself back in April. Now, I’m hopeful for the future of our business community. The South Metro Small Business Development Center has seen a huge increase in attendees to their classes since the pandemic; 800 people had 1-on-1 consultations, and 935 people attended webinars. We Aurorans are entrepreneurial, and we’re seeing opportunities in the challenges. When the few businesses who can’t adapt move to Centennial for lower wages or close their doors, better businesses, owned by local entrepreneurs, will have space to thrive.  

This is the perspective of many small businesses that know a rising tide raises all boats. Our economy isn’t going to collapse. It will be remade stronger. Our city council members are hearing from a very vocal minority of businesses. Most people, and local businesses, stand with this change. Be brave and vote yes on $17 by 2025. 

Carolyn Pace is the owner of Aurora-based Wompost, LLC

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