Monday morning at Glenora Wine Cellars, Congressman Tom Reed (R, N.Y. 23) held a round table meeting to hear the concerns of winery, brewery, and distillery owners.
Reed came prepared to talk about tax reform, especially for corporations and business investments, but the business people were more concerned with other problems. Their list includes: the Trump Administration’s immigration crackdown which is causing difficulties for guest workers; the high cost of health care for their employees; protecting the environment (especially water); reforming federal and state regulations on the beverage industry; preventing a trade war with Asian nations; and increasing small business start up stimulus packages.
“Why isn’t tax reform being talked about?” asked Reed. Gene Pierce, owner of Glenora Wine Cellars, replied calling it “a dull pain you just put up with.”
Chief among the business concerns is the availability of immigrant workers in the wake of Donald Trump’s orders to crackdown on immigration from Mexico.
Pierce and Len Wiltberger, owner of Keuka Spring Vineyards, both spoke of how dependent their operations are on immigrant workers. “They’ve kept us in business,” said Wiltberger. “It really is year round work for this labor source,” said Pierce.
Although Trump has said Mexico is sending criminals and rapists, Pierce praised their work ethic and reliability, saying, “They are wonderful people. They go to church, and they make good money.”
Keuka Spring’s winemaker, August Deimel, spoke of how many workers were available in past seasons, but that number has dropped dramatically. “That will sink our industry quickest. This is hand labor and hard work; there is no option for small wineries,” he said.
Deimel’s point was added to by Assistant Winemaker Rachel Hadley, who spoke of the change in labor over the years, saying, “We can’t pull kids out of school for this time-sensitive work anymore.”
Bradley Gillett, owner of Seneca Lake Brewing Co. and a British national foreign resident with a green card, spoke first-hand of the difficulties he faces when he returns to the U.S. from the U.K. “It takes me eight hours to get through immigration,” he said, asking why can’t there be integration of information between the various agencies. Reed replied that the administration is trying to solve the border issue, which may develop a “red card” pre-screened status.
On the matter of healthcare costs, Elizabeth Stamp, partner in Lakewood Vineyards, said, “Health insurance is killing us. The cost is outrageous even with high deductibles.” Pierce agreed, calling the insurance gap “catastrophic” when a serious health problem arises.
Regarding international trade, Reed asked where the wineries were seeing new opportunities. Deimel replied that Southeast Asia, especially Hong Kong, was growing. Reed advised the wineries to sell to Korea, saying that American products are considered a status symbol by Koreans, and “for whatever reason, Asians have a taste for sweet wine.”
Breaking from the discussion of the concerns raised, Reed presented his plans for business tax reform. This includes;
• Lowering the tax rate for corporations and capital gains
• Full cost deduction for business machinery and equipment, rather than taking depreciation
• Eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax
• Separating small business income from wage income for individuals
• Exempting companies from paying taxes on money earned from selling goods overseas.
Reed says these reforms will be “simple, fair, and competitive,” and “It will bring jobs back to our region and state.”