MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The economic outlook that a small group of business owners shared with U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito Friday in Martinsburg was one filled with challenges — some due to the economic downturn, others to regulations and financing barriers.
Capito's roundtable discussion with Kat and Ed Cimaglio of Cider Mill House Bed & Breakfast, Jack Meyer of Potomac Portable Restrooms, Arthur Ebeling and Audra Grapes of Warrior Energy and Jimila Jones-Fleet of Innovation Solutions Technology at the Newberry Executive Center capped a two-day visit to the Eastern Panhandle for the Republican lawmaker.
Admittedly struggling to survive after 11 years in business, Meyer told Capito that the business "rode the wave" of the region's construction boom, but now is riding the wave back down.
"Business couldn't be worse," said Meyer, who noted few developers are doing much of any construction in the area.
He attributed some of the lack of new construction to high gas prices, which he believes have dissuaded potential home buyers who want to avoid a long commute.
Unable to hire any help, Kat Cimaglio said the couple's business off Back Creek Valley Road in Berkeley County is off by 30 percent.
The couple has diversified in an effort to survive and farm about 200 acres that is part of the bed-and-breakfast property in the Hedgesville area. Farm animals have been enlisted in an educational bed-and-breakfast experience, Kat Cimaglio said.
Jones-Fleet said the information technology company she started with her husband has experienced growth, but now is faced with much more documentation resulting from the firm's contracts with federal agencies.
Given the tightening of the federal government marketplace, Jones-Fleet said they are now looking to get commercial clients.
Ebeling said the company's product — an all-natural, low-calorie, tea-based energy drink he created in his kitchen — is made with ingredients obtained from an international supply chain and now has reached mass production.
Financing, however, remains an issue as product sales have grown and the price of tea has increased substantially recently, Ebeling said.
Meyer lamented the Berkeley County public service sewer district's fees for disposing waste, questioning how their rates are justifiable when counties in Virginia cost much less.
"We charge $300 to pump a septic tank, that's what we have to charge, and we're not making a lot of money doing that," Meyer said.
When Capito asked about their confidence in the economy and when it may turnaround, Kat Cimaglio said they have adjusted their business model for three more years of lean times.
Meyer said he doesn't expect an uptick in the economy until industries return to the U.S.
Fleet-Jones said she described the economic climate she faces as a "stalemate" as companies continue to look to save money through outsourcing.
Ebeling said he believes some of the larger companies need to be held accountable for outsourcing, which he said is "a real problem."
To turn things around, Capito said after the roundtable that the "constant fight" in Washington needs to end and government spending needs to be reined in because it has a "paralyzing effect."
Capito said Congress needs to make sure the regulatory environment doesn't "get the best of us."
"Let's do it reasonably," said Capito, who noted that the health care issue still is "up in the air" and people are uncertain about the cost, she said.
"I think the bottom line is — there's not enough certainty (in the economy) so that people are going to say, 'Okay, I'm going to come out to Hedgesville for the weekend and spend a weekend at a beautiful bed and breakfast because I'm not sure what my health care cost is going to be, or my husband lost his job, or I lost my job because they had to cut back,'" Capito said.