This past week included another demonstration that social media is definitely a mixed blessing.
A Facebook page asked the question of which businesses or kinds of businesses would the respondents like to see in Platteville that are not presently in Platteville. These subjects are usually exercises in fantasy, since the businesses often mentioned are not in this area because this area doesn’t have enough people or the right demographics or geography (for instance, Interstate highway access) to get onto the radar of, for instance, a restaurant chain.
Such exercises inevitably devolve into what people think is wrong with businesses in this area. The prices of business A are too high, but business B doesn’t have enough selection. Someone once had a bad experience with business C, so of course that person doesn’t go there anymore. Platteville doesn’t have nearly enough businesses as this other place. (The fact that said other place is within sight of a city of about 250,000 people is generally not noted.) And wouldn’t it be great to have businesses here that have jobs that pay a lot of money, instead of what businesses pay here now.
The First Amendment gives everyone the right to his or her own opinion, whether or not you agree with that opinion. That is a right your favorite weekly newspaper supports in our Letters section each week. (It should be noted, though, that Facebook and Twitter are private businesses, which have the right to include or not opinions with which it agrees or not. Private businesses are not subject to the First Amendment.)
I get irritated when I read opinions like “Platteville needs _______,” though, in part because the answers often demonstrate significant ignorance about business. Those who complain about (1) wages at a certain business or (2) prices of that business fail to understand the factors that go into the cost of a product or services. The biggest portion of the cost of a product or service is employee wages. Taxes are second. No business — actually, no organization, including those called “nonprofits” — can afford to spend more money than it takes in and expect to stay in existence very long.
It may surprise some people to know that business people are not getting rich from their businesses in Platteville. The former owner of The Journal, Dick Brockman, ran a business targeted at kids, Grizzly Flats. Without researching I am positive Dick made no money on Grizzly Flats. He ran Grizzly Flats to give kids something to do. That is what business people do in addition to selling products and services and employing people — they give back to their community, even in innocuous ways like putting up posters in their storefront windows.
The people complaining more often than not have never signed the front of a paycheck. Those complainers work eight hours a day, five days a week, and get paid for their overtime, unlike business owners, who generally work all seven days of the week, more than eight hours a day. Holidays are for employees. So are sick days. Those realities and the aforementioned complaints probably have a lot to do with why such restaurants as The Timbers in Platteville, the Dugout in Dickeyville, and Friedman’s in Potosi closed years ago. (Or why numerous other family-owned businesses in Southwest Wisconsin aren’t family-owned anymore.)
It may be easier to criticize businesses whose corporate headquarters are based outside of this area, but those businesses employ people in this area. In fact, I would bet there is not a single business based anywhere within The Journal’s circulation area that has more profits than employee wages. That includes those huge nationwide businesses.
People also have the right in a free enterprise society to take their business elsewhere for whatever reason they choose. (Which is why you see few business owners get into local government, because their business is more important than the hassles of serving in elective office.) Modern transportation allows us to go southwest to Dubuque or northeast to Madison to shop and get, or so you think, better prices, though the cost of the drive, lunch out of town, off-the-shopping-list purchases, etc., usually doesn’t get considered in the total of what got spent that particular shopping day. If everyone decided to shop outside of Platteville, Platteville would have very few businesses.
I have generated controversy in this space in the past because, when government does something, I look up and down Main Street to ponder the impacts the actions of government will have on Platteville-area businesses. That’s why I occasionally paraphrase William F. Buckley and assert that I would rather be governed by any area’s chamber of commerce than that same area’s elected officials, be they local, state or federal. Business owners have to earn the money they make. For those not in business who complain about local businesses, the phrase “put your money where your mouth is” comes to mind.