I almost couldn’t believe my ears when I had an employee tell me they couldn’t afford the drive to work. We have tried to keep up with inflation, but apparently it wasn’t enough. We lost a few good employees because of the expense burden that high fuel costs have caused.
At the Northern Lakes Cooperative in Hayward, we run a gas station, a hardware store, and an energy center that provides propane and HVAC products, along with some other business units. In total, we employ roughly 50 people.
Given the workforce shortage and rising costs, we increased our starting wage to between $16 and $18 per hour. That is for an entry-level cashier position. But, not everyone lives in town, so it can be a far drive to and from work. And let’s be honest – there is no short drive in the Northwoods.
First, we tried to encourage carpooling for employees to lessen the burden of high gas prices. It isn’t a perfect system because of the distance between homes, but it certainly helped. When that wasn’t enough, we started offering gas cards as a small bonus to some employees.
With gas prices over 60 percent more than they were in January 2021, just a $25 gas card can have an extraordinary impact.
It isn’t just our employees that are struggling with ever-increasing costs, though. I also notice it when I see the gas pumps at our Cenex station. Nearly every pump used to stop on a random dollar amount as people filled their tanks. Now, I see pumps that have stopped exactly at $10, $20 or whatever amount someone could afford to put in the tank that day.
Going beyond fueling our cars and trucks, I am nervous for what a Wisconsin winter might bring when it comes to energy. The cost of propane – which most of us rely on to heat our homes in northern Wisconsin – is already going up, and we are just a couple weeks into Fall.
This all gets mixed in with higher costs at the grocery store, our favorite restaurants and the things we need to buy every single day.
Many people shrug their shoulders and say, “it will be what it will be.” But, the truth is, our slowing economy and accelerating inflation could have been prevented. Poor public policy choices have been the catalyst for many of our country’s challenges.
Federal spending is up 40 percent since 2019 – adding trillions to our national debt. The so-called Inflation Reduction Act had a net tax increase of $324 billion, only adding to already high costs. And we have a President who is leading the charge against investments in affordable American energy. These policies and more have resulted in prices going up by 17 percent in the last two years.
Fortunately, we can choose a different path. Prosperity is possible if we implement the right policies and, quite simply, reduce the influence that government has on our daily lives.
To do this, we need to end the out-of-control federal spending that has resulted in historically high inflation and restore responsible budgeting in Washington. I honestly don’t remember the last time lawmakers in our nation’s capital had to do what we do in the private sector. It is time they learn to balance a budget just like the rest of us.
Policymakers must end their unrealistic restrictions on domestic energy production, too. Until we unleash the potential of affordable and reliable American energy sources, we will continue to see high prices on gas, propane and other fuels we rely on.
Record inflation and rising energy costs are holding our economy back. If we return to policies that work, we will once again have an economy we can afford.
Mike Covelli is the general manager at Northern Lakes Cooperative in Hayward.