Fourteen years after starting and running two downtown businesses in Owatonna, Perfect Day Cakes and later Central Park Café, I’ll be leaving by the New Year and moving to Wyoming. But I also want to leave with some thoughts about the future of Owatonna and Minnesota, which will always be my home state.
I came back to Minnesota after a couple of years in Florida because Minnesota was doing a much better job of helping people get health care and investing in education. Minnesota just believed in people more, and that meant a lot to me.
We all still face a lot of challenges when it comes to making a decent life for our families, but my hope is that Minnesota and the people we elect will build on everything we’ve done for each other. We don’t gain by tearing each other down. We gain by supporting each other, no matter what we look like or where we were born.
When I started my small business in Owatonna, I wanted to create jobs, and help contribute to a thriving downtown with one less vacant storefront. I wanted to create a home and a welcoming space for people who didn’t always have one; a place where all people are welcomed as customers and employees, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, income or background.
I also wanted to create good jobs that gave people financial and economic security. What I have found is that it is very challenging for small businesses to do that in our economy, which favors big corporations over independent businesses and people like you and me.
At the height of our business, I had 20 employees, whom I care deeply about. Once I had an employee who was a single mom. She often brought her kids in when she couldn’t find care. I saw her struggle, as she spent the majority of her paycheck on child care. Many parents are in that situation, and many employees, especially those in small businesses, do not have benefits like maternity/paternity leave either.
As things stand now, my sales don’t allow me to offer paid leave for my employees. If you aren’t Target or at least a moderate size business, the numbers just don’t add up. This has real consequences for my business and many other small businesses.
That’s where common-sense policies like the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act can help small businesses walk the tightrope between ensuring we cover our bottom line and taking good care of our staff. A statewide program like the one proposed uses the power in numbers to spread costs and help smaller operations like mine while providing a baseline benefit to all working Minnesotans.
Paid family leave and investment in child care would make it easier for businesses like mine to offer good jobs in our communities.
The proposed paid leave measure would not only help level the playing field between big business and local businesses like mine, it will help us move forward on equality as well. Women more often assume caregiving roles and therefore more often have to make difficult choices between family and career. Helping women stay in the Minnesota workforce raises productivity and lifts the economy as a whole, and may help the labor shortage we are experiencing in this state.
I am hopeful about the future of Owatonna and Minnesota. We have elected new leaders in our state who seem to understand the importance of making these investments. I urge you to encourage them and work with them to do the right thing for our community, our small businesses and our future.
Thea Farrington has run two businesses in Owatonna, Perfect Day Cakes and Central Park Café.
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