Executive director: ‘We are trying to give businesses a little bit of flexibility’
Nebraska has a new governor for 2023, and “everybody feels optimistic,” said Ansley Fellers, executive director of the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association.
While the state has a mostly business-friendly climate, Fellers said she believes Gov. Jim Pillen and the state legislature will continue to work on the tax burden.
“Our state revenue is actually up, so we’ve got some money in the coffers to provide some tax relief. I know that’s a big priority for our state leaders, and it’s a really big priority for the business community.”
Fellers said the taxes in the state put Nebraska at a bit of a competitive disadvantage, adding that the association is supportive of the tax relief effort.
With the state legislature in session, the association’s No. 1 priority this year is two bills addressing the minimum wage increase that voters approved on the November ballot. The wage, which was $9 per hour, increased in January to $10.50 per hour. It is scheduled to increase by $1.50 for the next three years until it reaches $15 an hour in January 2026, according to Fellers. It is slated to increase by the Midwest CPI every year following.
The NGIA is supporting bills that would establish a youth and training wage and cap the CPI increase. “I don’t think there is any desire to overturn the will of the voters, but we are trying to give businesses a little bit of flexibility,” Fellers said.
While there are a couple of years before the CPI cap would come into play, she said the association would like both bills to move through this year “for the sake of everyone’s peace of mind.”
Other legislation the association is supporting relates to retail pharmacies. One bill would allow pharmacy technicians to continue giving vaccines in the arm, which they were allowed to do during the COVID-19 pandemic via a waiver.
“Now that the emergency is expiring, it appears that our state is poised to allow that to continue.”
Early in the pandemic, retail pharmacies were hiring nurses to give shots, Fellers said. However, with a nursing shortage, having pharmacy techs continue to administer vaccines would allow nurses to stay where they are most needed.
The Nebraska association also will continue to work on the state’s limitation on the ratio of pharmacists to technicians. “Retail pharmacy is a big priority for us because a number of our members have retail pharmacies.”
As far as legislation the association is opposing, Fellers said that includes tax increases of any kind and unfunded mandates “that we have to battle every year.”
Grocers in Nebraska continue to face supply chain issues. “My understanding is that it’s never everything at once,” Fellers said. “It seems like every week or every couple of weeks, there’s something – especially for the rural independent – that is shorted or missing or out. It just doesn’t seem like we’re back to what we consider full capacity.”
She said pre-COVID, rural independents faced those supply issues on occasion and were used to working around being shorted sometimes. Now, however, it is a more regular occurrence.
“Sometimes the list of things they didn’t get is longer than the list of things they got. I think that’s something that we really need to continue focusing on,” she said.
While grocers in some states have been able to turn to local producers to help fill their shelves, Nebraska has limited options. Fellers said the climate and topography of the state is such that it can’t grow products that people demand year-round.
“We need to make sure that our supply chain works because Nebraska is not necessarily situated to fill the grocery store shelves. A lot of the states in the Midwest aren’t.”
Inflation also has impacted Nebraska grocers, but Fellers said it is “softening.” She said inflation is driven by many things – supply chain, weather, labor, the war in Ukraine and China’s lockdown (since eased), for example – but believes it will continue to soften.
Although many grocers are feeling some frustration, they also are optimistic about the future. Fellers added that, as far as supply chain problems, she hopes shoppers understand that grocers are doing the best they can to get products on the shelves. “Margins are so tight and costs are going up. It’s not like the local business is reaping a huge profit.”
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