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Rep. Keller, bankers mull moving ahead from pandemic

Local banking and business officials discussed with U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, the issues they faced with COVID-19 and how they are moving forward in their operations.

The lawmaker and those taking part in the roundtable discussion sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers agreed they don’t want to have to work through another pandemic which resulted in much of the economy shutting down.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know whether we can afford to do it again,” Keller said.

He said he remains concerned about the nation’s growing debt and how to precisley address its infrastructure needs.

John Engel, president of Woodlands Bank, said the biggest problem banks are hearing from business customers is that of hiring employees.

It was noted that in order to attract people to go back to work, many companies are raising their wages.

Keller expressed his opposition to hiking the minimum wage.

“What do they hope to accomplish by raising the minimum wage?” he said. “It doesn’t increase buying power. What is it designed to do?”

Jordan Grant, director of Government Relations, Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers, said many employees are being asked to pay people “under the table.”

“Wages are going up across the board,” he said, while adding that inflation is a concern.

Engel said companies are finding ways to reinvent themselves.

Restaurants do more take-out service now, while others close on certain days due to lack of staff, he added.

“What does it mean to get back to normal?” he asked.

Keller noted that he knows of at least one convenience store in his 12th Congressional District that was forced to close on Friday nights.

Another concern expressed by officials is the surplus of inventory many businesses are maintaining which can result in selling at a loss just to get rid of merchandise.

Keller noted that the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided loans to businesses to keep workers on their payroll, was among the better government programs rolled out during the pandemic.

All businesses, he said, like predictabity and what to expect going forward.

“They don’t want to guess what regulations will be. Let’s have confidence in businesses and the people who run them,” he said.

Most companies, he said, care about their people, even if there exist those small numbers of business people who break the rules.

“But I don’t think Washington should be lecturing us,” he said.

Keller noted his opposition to public banks, which are enterprises under government control.

“Banking should be done by the bankers,” he said. “It’s a successful model that works.”

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