Business Success How this small business is tackling poverty paying twice minimum wage

Lancaster City has a high poverty rate.  About 30%, Crystle and Lauer say.  While their business alone can’t feed all those individuals, the two want to use their company to show that local businesses can help change that. 

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This Pennsylvania-based business says that the minimum wage in the state is a “poverty wage.”  Instead, they’re opting to pay their employees nearly twice that.

The Lancaster Food Company was started last year by Charlie Crystle and Craig Lauer, an entrepreneur and a foodie, respectively.  They sell breads, seed butters, salsas, and maple syrup — all organic and all local.  But aside from serving up high quality food, the duo want to solve some serious social issues in the area.

Lancaster City has a high poverty rate.  About 30%, Crystle and Lauer say.  While their business alone can’t feed all those individuals, the two want to use their company to show that local businesses can help change that. 

So, they’re opting to hire folks who come from low-income backgrounds.  But they’re going beyond the minimum wage, by offering them a starting hourly rate of $14 an hour plus paid time off and benefits.

“We feel people who put in a full day of work should get a full day’s pay, which to us means enough money to pay the bills and have some left over so they’re not just scraping by,” says Crystle.

There’s also employee ownership: 30% of the company will be owned by the employees.  Right now, the company has 14 employees. Crystle says it pays in the long run to invest in your staff — financially and emotionally.  “It leads to less turnover, which is costly.”

So, how do they find these people and make sure they actually get the job done?

It requires some hand-holding and attention, says Polly Lauer, the COO at Lancaster Food Co.  Lauer says the company helps them with “wrap around” services, i.e. finding safe housing with no or bad credit. 

There’s also the fact that many of them have not had real jobs in the past, so they have to be coached in professionalism and developing a strong work ethic.

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