Housing, health insurance remain top challenges for small businesses

·2 min read

Oct. 15—The rising cost of health insurance continues to confound small businesses, who are dealing with all manner of challenges during the pandemic.

"We've seen 22% to 28% increases year after year," said Nick Brattan, president of New England Document Systems in Manchester. "It has cost us over the past three years well over $300,000, and that is out of our pocket. We just can't pass that on to the employees."

Small businesses should band together to share in those costs, Brattan suggested during a roundtable discussion Thursday morning at his East Industrial Drive company. The event was hosted by Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices as part of its nationwide "Road to Recovery" tour.

Alex Bellman, owner of Bellman Jewelers, liked Brattan's idea.

"It would be the greatest thing if we could all as small businesses pool in, absolutely," he said. "100%."

Jane Moffat, northeast regional director for Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices, said she has heard about issues with health insurance from companies across the country.

"It puts small businesses at a disadvantage," she said.

Health insurance costs are just one hurdle confronting business owners. Access to federal grants and loans, procurement reform and childcare were also discussed during the round table.

Chris Proulx, owner of Double Midnight Comics, said he has several younger employees struggling to buy a house.

"Even apartments are crazy right now," he said.

Brattan said 80% of his company's 85 jobs are blue-collar, which can pose a housing hardship.

"They aren't $60,000 to $80,000 jobs. They are not the IT or the salespeople," he said. "They need affordable housing. It's difficult, and it's heart-wrenching to hear them sometimes, 'I need to find another apartment. I need another bedroom. I have to pay $2,000 a month.' It is heartbreaking to hear."

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said the city has spent nearly $8 million toward affordable housing initiatives to increase inventory and work with private developers to ensure they build affordable units.

The city also is preparing to launch another round of grants for small businesses in the city struggling to recover from the pandemic, using American Rescue Plan money.

Many businesses are not in the position to take on more loans, Moffat said.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is a free 12-week program that launched 10 years ago. It helps entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity by providing access to education, capital and business support services. Bellman, Brattan and Proulx all took part in the program. For more information or to apply go to 10KSBapply.com.

jphelps@unionleader.com

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