Hiring Climate Affects Small Businesses

Apr 6, 2012
Originally published on April 6, 2012 5:23 pm
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We head to Ohio now for Bruce Lackey's view of the economy. He's CEO of Happy Chicken Farms, a wholesale egg and dairy distributor in Urbancrest, Ohio. The company has been in business since 1953, now has 32 employees. Mr. Lackey joins me from his office. Welcome to the program.

BRUCE LACKEY: Well, thank you very much for the invitation.

CORNISH: As we've heard, the economy added 120,000 more jobs, but economists are saying they're disappointed because they thought it would have been higher. They thought maybe 200,000 jobs would be added. How do you feel about these numbers?

LACKEY: I think we should be disappointed with the economists because we're out here doing everything we can as far as small business and small enterprise, trying to move the needle forward.

CORNISH: And you think the sort of conversation, the perception about which way these things should go, hurts?

LACKEY: Yeah. No economist called me.

CORNISH: So Mr. Lackey, how is business?

LACKEY: Business is good. We're quite bullish right now as far as how we're seeing the economy and the outlook in general. We do feel some uncertainty being translated back up to us from our customer base just because of the November election and some other issues like the pending health care review by the Supreme Court.

CORNISH: Did you end up being one of those employers who was hiring?

LACKEY: Yes, we were.

CORNISH: And what made you pull the trigger?

LACKEY: Just business in general has been telling us we need to do that. We have been looking at the total job creation here locally in the central Ohio area, and it's been pretty strong. Our customer base, which is primarily food service and retail grocers, their business is also showing some increases. So our business is up, which has required us to add some staff.

CORNISH: Bruce, how does your business compare to the past few years?

LACKEY: Well, 2009 was very difficult because of the recession. We did have a contraction in sales. 2010 wasn't much better. But 2011 was very good for us, and actually, first quarter numbers this year over last year, we're up 18 percent. So we're feeling very good about what's coming up and hope that we can continue to see those types of increases through the balance of the year, which is what really has caused us to start to hire again.

CORNISH: Do you see yourself doing more hiring in the future?

LACKEY: Yes, absolutely. We're trying to hire two people right now.

CORNISH: And what sort of complicates that? You mentioned things like the health care law that's in debate right now and also the election. I mean, so many of the candidates are talking about the economic future of the country in dire terms.

LACKEY: Well, business doesn't like uncertainly. We're on an uptick now, and we certainly hope that can continue. But there are some indicators that we have people saying that they're not as bullish as perhaps they would be, waiting to see what's going to happen in November. And some even saying that they're not going to add any people. This is fellow employers of mine in the area, that they're not going to be too willing to add people until they know what the outcome of the health care law is going to be coming out of the Supreme Court.

CORNISH: How does the health care law play into that uncertainty? I don't know sort of your feelings on it, if it's something that depending on which way it went would affect how you went about your business.

LACKEY: Well, it's an interesting question and a good one. In the regards that as small business owner we're currently supplying health care to all of our employees, whether they're married or single, so on one hand I'm thinking if this does go through the Supreme Court and they do uphold it, my competitors are forced to add this as a benefit, increasing their cost - this would actually be a benefit for me and my company.

CORNISH: But on the other hand?

LACKEY: On the other hand, I just don't like the idea of the government being involved in health care decision. I'd love to see the 20 or so million people that are without health care, I want to see them covered, but I'm not sure this is the best way to do it.

CORNISH: Is there anything else that you think Washington could do that it hasn't done already to improve things in the economy in Urbancrest?

LACKEY: The economy in general, certainly we can continue to talk about excessive regulations. Every time we buy a new truck, there's additional costs involved because of additional anti-pollution devices which - I'm all for clean air, but it is a huge cost for us. Regulations, I think, are necessary, but perhaps maybe a better look at some of them and allow small business and middle-sized business have the opportunity to weigh in on some of those changes, not just maybe large business. Otherwise, just give us a level playing field and let us outmanage our competition, and we'll continue to grow and hire and exceed.

CORNISH: Bruce Lackey, thanks so much for talking with us.

LACKEY: Oh, you're welcome and happy Easter to you and all your listeners.

CORNISH: Bruce Lackey is CEO of Happy Chicken Farms, a wholesale egg and dairy distributor in Urbancrest, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.