Montgomery Advertiser: Ashraf Hijaz: Raising the minimum wage would boost state's economy

Op-Ed By Ashraf Hijaz
Montgomery Advertiser, July 24, 2019

Nearly 18 years ago, I moved to Alabama with dreams of opening a business. What began as a single Beauty & Beyond store on Norman Bridge Road has grown to 24 locations across six states, with six here in Montgomery, and a total of more than 100 employees. Over the years, I’ve seen the value of treating people the way I want to be treated — and for me that starts with my employees.

Since opening my business, I’ve made it a practice to pay above the minimum wage. If I want them to do a great job, I need to pay them a decent wage. And it works. Every day I see staff interacting with our customers, informing them about our products, finding what they need and providing the service that encourages customers to come back again and again.

I’m well aware of how difficult it can be for small businesses like mine to find and retain a dedicated workforce. But having day-after-day, year-after-year employee loyalty isn’t just a nice, feel-good aspect of my business, it helps my bottom line. My recruiting and training costs are lower, I have less turnover and I enjoy remarkable stability for a small business.

Paying good wages also has beneficial ripple effects for the local economy. With more cash to spend, my employees become customers of other local small businesses: our hardware stores, our daycare centers, our grocery stores, our salons, our delis, our coffee shops and more. The reverse is also true. Many of my customers are low-wage workers. When they have more money in their pockets, they spend it locally, at businesses like mine. 

The link between wages and business success really hit home for me in 2007, when we were on the cusp of the Great Recession and my business was struggling. Then Hyundai’s plant in Montgomery kicked into higher gear, and my business went up 20% because Hyundai paid higher wages than many other local businesses. Their employees were my customers. As a result of their patronage, I was able to grow my business and create more good jobs. I always believed businesses should pay decent wages because it’s the right thing to do. But that experience demonstrated how paying good wages is beneficial for local businesses and communities more broadly.

It is time to bolster local economies and businesses by raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage, which sets the floor in Alabama. Minimum wage workers haven’t had a raise above $7.25 an hour for 10 years, even as the cost of living has risen. In fact, June 16 marked the longest period without a minimum wage increase since the federal minimum wage was enacted in 1938. Lawmakers aren’t doing businesses any favors by keeping the minimum wage at $7.25 and keeping more money out of the hands of our customers. 

We have a lot of lost ground to make up. That’s why I support gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, as proposed in the Raise the Wage Act that just passed the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s not an overnight raise — 2025 is six years from now. That will give businesses time to adjust as predictable annual increases take effect.

Most businesses have a lot more customers than employees. Raising the minimum wage will increase customer spending at all kinds of businesses and be a welcome boost for our economy.

Raising the minimum wage will send a message to Alabamans: Stay here, raise your family here. You don’t have to relocate to another state for those extra dollars an hour needed to move out of poverty and support your family.

After 18 years of business, I can hardly think of a more positive economic move we as a nation can make.

Ashraf Hijaz owns a chain of Beauty & Beyond stores in Montgomery and across the South, and is a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.

Read more

Copyright 2019 Ashraf Hijaz

Share +