U.S. Rep. Stephen Womack (Ark.-3) visited Alternative Design in Siloam Springs on Wednesday.
Womack stopped by as part of his small business tour of Northwest Arkansas to get a first-hand look at operations, tour the facility and meet with company leadership and employees, according to a press release from Womack's office.
The congressman from Rogers met with Grant Loyd, Alternative Design's president and CEO, as well as five other members of the company's leadership team, who addressed issues the company face today. Some of the issues Loyd spoke about were the challenges of finding people who want to work and the possibility of a $15 an hour minimum wage.
On a positive note, Loyd spoke about how Alternative Design is strong in China and Taiwan and how it has done some work in Belgium and Japan. Alternative Design also has helped working on coronavirus vaccines by providing cages for animal studies, Loyd said.
"It's kind of neat being involved and being able to know that some of our equipment is not only just going out here to the farms but being used during the pandemic, helping and assisting," Loyd said.
Labor has been a struggle for Alternative Design because many are just going through the motions of looking for work and not really interested in finding a job, Loyd said. Alternative Design presently has 65 employees, Loyd said.
Director of Operations Elton Moore said people are paying out bonuses for people to just show up on time for working a 40-hour work week. The company has given away more time off as an incentive, Moore said.
"It's not anymore where you pay a wage for someone to come to work," Loyd said. "You have to pay bonuses and compete to get them to show up to work and that's getting very tough in Northwest Arkansas."
Wages and the possibility of a federal minimum wage is something that concerns Loyd and other members of Alternative Design's leadership team.
Moore said when Arkansas's minimum wage was $7.75 an hour, Alternative Design would start their employees at $10 or $11 an hour, but that has gotten harder to do, Moore said.
Womack, who listened to the concerns of Alternative Design's leadership, began by addressing the issue of minimum wage, saying he is not a fan of a $15 an hour minimum wage.
"You cannot compare, and I can attest to this personally, you cannot compare the cost of living say in Washington D.C. to Northwest Arkansas," Womack said. "So that automatically renders minimum wage discussions kind of moot."
As of 2021, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and Arkansas' minimum wage is $11 per hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's website, www.dol.gov.
Womack said the private sector is willing and capable of dealing with the competitive market forces that go on in any given region.
As for whether the current legislative branch will vote to pass a $15 an hour federal minimum wage, Womack does not believe that will happen because Republicans will not go along with that.
Womack said of the present political scenario that the Senate is 50/50 in terms of Democrats and Republicans and the House only has a three or four Democratic majority vote.
Still Womack would not oppose a higher minimum wage if it was reasonable.
"If someone wanted to say 'Alright, make it $10' ... so what, big deal," Womack said. "You're not hiring anybody for $10 an hour in Northwest Arkansas. You know you're going to be paying more than that."
When people start pushing minimum wage above what is a reasonable entry level wage for a non-skilled job in Northwest Arkansas that's when different factors come into play, including the possibility of employers looking at having machines replace employees, he said.
Womack also addressed the extended unemployment benefits due to the coronavirus, saying that it will cause people to become more dependent on the government.
"I don't think there should ever be a policy where you guarantee somebody wages greater than 100 percent of what they're making," Womack said.
To keep the carrot on the stick, Womack believes unemployment compensation should not be greater than 70 percent, so when people are unemployed it is really temporary, he said.
The nation needs to get past the coronavirus so some normalcy can return to every day work, he said.
Following the discussion with Alternative Design's leadership, Womack toured the plant and spoke with different workers about their jobs and what they produced.
Womack and his staff also received tote bags with different products featuring the Alternative Design logo and Womack personally received a snack bowl made of Walnut wood from Loyd.