Ernst visit to M’s Machine focuses on how small businesses are emerging from pandemic

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U.S. Senator Joni Ernst visited M’s Machine & Manufacturing Company, Inc., in Monona on Aug. 31. She met with Candace Drahn, an owner of M’s Machine, and other employees to discuss opportunities and challenges small businesses face as they emerge from the pandemic. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Ernst listens to concerns from Candace Drahn along with M's Machine President Casey Drahn and Production Manager Chris Howe.

Ernst met with employees during a tour of M’s Machine, learning about their jobs and backgrounds. Here, she speaks with Tony Schobert.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst visited M’s Machine & Manufacturing Company, Inc., in Monona on Aug. 31, as part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Voices “Road to Recovery,” a cross-country series of bipartisan events connecting elected officials with small business owners. 

 

Ernst met with Candace Drahn—an owner of M’s Machine and alumna of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program—to discuss opportunities and challenges small businesses face as they emerge from the pandemic. 

 

“We wanted to hear about some of the challenges through COVID, and then how do we come out of COVID and be a viable manufacturer,” Ernst said. 

 

Drahn, along with other M’s Machine employees, spoke with Ernst during a tour of the facility, touching on the company’s work to address supply chain issues, navigate a difficult labor market and respond to inflationary pressures.

 

“Business has come back and looks pretty decent, but we’re also plagued with some issues that make it hard to recover,” said Drahn. “Inflationary pressures, there is a lot of that. Then freight delivery and pick up has been a big struggle.”

 

“We talked about our lack of labor. We have a lot of work but not enough people to keep that work going out the door,” Drahn added. “And it’s not just us. It goes down the line. Our sub-contractors are having the same issues, and our customers are having some of the same issues too.”

 

A recent survey from Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Voices found that, of 71 percent of small businesses currently hiring, 81 percent are finding it difficult to recruit qualified candidates.

 

“That is something we have to figure out,” said Ernst. “You need to be creative, and I think Candace has got a number of different ways they are trying to tackle those issues.”

 

Ernst said visits like this help her see where the federal government can be helpful and where it may need to back off.

 

“Sometimes, what the federal government does isn’t necessarily helpful, or is maybe not going as planned,” she explained.

 

One success story she touted was the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

 

“That was a program I was involved with on the Small Business Committee. We had thousands upon thousands of Iowa businesses that were able to utilize the PPP, and it kept their employees paid during COVID, even when work dropped off to a minimum. I’m glad you were able to take advantage of that because there was a lot of worry,” Ernst said to Drahn.

 

According to Drahn, the strategic planning skills she learned through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program has also been helpful through the pandemic. The initiative supports small businesses by making their voices heard on important policy issues, and it has helped small businesses create jobs and economic growth by providing entrepreneurs with a practical business education, business support services and access to capital. Over 130 Iowa business owners have completed the program through four cohorts.

 

Drahn said she was excited that last week’s visit gave her an opportunity to show off the M’s Machine employees and let them explain what they do.

 

“They are all very proud of their jobs and have been good to us,” she remarked.

 

It also showed the importance of the small business.

 

“We had a lot of material in there, we are very viable and we are very important to the economy,” Drahn shared.

 

Ernst agreed, noting that companies like M’s Machine are a vital part of rural areas in that they provide employment pathways for young people who may not want to attend a traditional four-year college.

 

“They might want to go to a tech school or trade school. Some of them just want to start working after they graduate. This is perfect for them,” Ernst said. “They can have a good wage, have a good job and stay in the community. Like M’s, there are many manufacturers across Iowa that are located in rural areas. And in spite of a limited labor pool, they still find some of those really good employees who want to stay in their home communities.”

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