(Bloomberg) -- Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell got an earful from small-business owners complaining about inflation, high interest rates and problems finding workers during a walking tour in Pennsylvania on Monday.
“We’re a little blindsided,” said Julie Flinchbaugh Keene, co-owner of Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm in York, Pennsylvania. “Predictability is just gone. It’s very hard to operate a business in a world where there’s not predictability. And so that’s been a bit of a challenge.”
The orchard owner told Powell in response to his follow-up questions that fuel costs, fertilizer prices and wages were all a concern.
Powell was accompanied by Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker on a one-mile walk across York’s downtown, with stops at a local market, a planned development along a creek and a coffee shop.
The visit was part of an effort to highlight York’s successes with economic and community development, and to learn about obstacles business people are facing, similar to those reported in the Beige Book report of regional business conditions compiled by the 12 Fed banks.
“I think our biggest problem for vendors right now is staffing,” said Cindy Steele, chief operating officer at Central Market, a facility for smaller retail vendors. “So they can’t find staff. And if they do find staff, they don’t last, you know, a day or two,” Steele told the Fed officials.
Sweet Mama’s Mambo Sauce owner Jennifer Heasley said in an interview high interest rates were a problem for her business, which she started partly on credit cards, now that she’s paying 8% on a loan. She said profit margins have dropped on her sauces and she expects to raise prices next year.
Lacresha Drayden, co-owner of Our Sons and Daughters, which makes bath and body products, said her plans to expand from the market to a full-time brick-and-mortar location have been held up by rising costs of real estate — a storefront would cost at least $1,200 a month.
“Prices are crazy,” she told Harker and Powell, adding costs of shipping supplies have been excessive. “The prices of rent of certain places are expensive. So right now it’s been a little bit challenging.”
At a roundtable with Powell and Harker before the walking tour, local businesspeople highlighted a lack of child care as being a barrier to hiring workers.
Read More: Powell Says Fed Seeking Sustained Period of Good Labor Market
The Fed officials repeatedly praised local economic and community leaders for working together to address problems with innovative training programs, and Harker asked if the community’s “secret sauce” could be replicated elsewhere.
Most of the businesses expressed cautious optimism, noting recovery from Covid-19 with still many obstacles ahead.
The community has experienced “measured growth” since the pandemic, said Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance.
“Getting all of those important indicators back to pre-pandemic levels is important,” he said. At the same time,“it really exposed a lot of the challenges that existed prior, like childcare, transportation, access to capital for small businesses, things of that nature.”
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