The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exaggerated pain points that small business owners were already facing before the global health crisis, said U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids.
“I really think that what the pandemic did was, in some ways, highlighted the things that we should have been focusing on. … I know a lot of businesses are really feeling this workforce pinch,” Davids — elected in 2018 to serve Kansas’ 3rd congressional district — told Startland News. “People are having a hard time finding folks to fill positions — that was an issue in my first year [in Congress] … but now we’re hearing about it a lot more.”
Finding workers, however, is only a piece of the challenge facing businesses across Kansas City and beyond.
Watch the video below for an exclusive Startland News interview with Rep. Davids, then keep reading about her recent visit to one of Kansas City’s top startups. The conversation touches on her passion for entrepreneurs, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act, the Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act and more.
Earlier this month, Davids voted to pass the COMPETES Act, which includes incentives for domestic semiconductor manufacturing, resources to strengthen supply chains and reduce inflation and policies that will promote American global leadership amongst countries like China.
“It’s hard to know if we would have been thinking about bringing much more manufacturing back domestically if it weren’t for the pandemic,” Davids said.
On Wednesday, Davids toured Ronawk — an Olathe-based biomanufacturing startup focused on cell culture — amid ongoing efforts to find solutions to the small businesses’ common problems. Much of the visit focused on addressing lingering supply chain and logistics challenges hitting industries across the globe.
“If we want to fix our supply chain, address rising prices, and stay competitive against countries like China, we should be investing in our talent and capacity here at home,” Davids said. “Ronawk is a great example of the cutting-edge manufacturing we have right here in the Third District.”
Within the field of cell culture, several specific hurdles in the supply chain impact the speed, cost and results, said A.J. Mellott, the CEO and co-founder of Ronawk. The COMPETES Act supported by Davids would help manufacturers like Ronawk with supplying customers in and outside of the U.S. with premium cell culture development technology, he continued.
“Additionally, it will help scientists all over the world accelerate research and potentially lower the cost of production for life science and pharmaceutical companies across the globe,” Mellott noted.
Click here to read the latest news from Ronawk and its growing Olathe operation.
Check out a gallery of photos by Channa Steinmetz and Tommy Felts from Rep. Davids’ visit to Ronawk below, then keep reading.
With many other small business owners in Kansas City still recovering from the ongoing pandemic, Davids also encouraged them to look into local tools already in place.
“We’ve got a ton of resources in our area, thank goodness,” Davids said in reference to Kansas’ 3rd congressional district. “We’ve got the Small Business Development Center at Johnson County Community College, the Kansas City Women’s Business Center. We have access to the SCORE program, which is a mentorship program.
“Just recently, I had the chance to visit with the Workforce Development Program in KCK,” she continued, “and that’s a resource for both employers and folks who are looking for jobs.”
A full list of programs and resources available — as well as resources for lower gas prices, help with utility bills and other everyday needs — can be found on Davids’ Congressional website. Those with questions about how to access these tools may call her office at (913) 766-3993, she noted.
Click here for the list of resources for small businesses owners and community members.
Jessica Johnson — who serves as the regional director with the Kansas Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Johnson County Community College — added that her organization provides education and training to businesses at every stage of the life cycle. Currently, she is leading a class on “surviving to thriving.”
“We’re trying to reach the masses and meet small business owners where they are at,” Johnson said. “We’ve designed our program this way so that they can take full advantage of it.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.