Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, said at a stop in Hinesville he can relate to challenges facing small businesses. The congressman was in Liberty County on Thursday to promote National Small Business Week.
It was one of a number of recent stops in the Coastal Empire for the two-term Republican, who is unopposed in the primary but will face Democrat opposition in November.
Carter started the day at Angie’s Diner in Midway before heading west to Molly Maxine Boutique in downtown Hinesville, where owners Cathy Thomas and her daughter Rhonda sell Merle Norman cosmetics.
There, Carter met with the Thomases, other downtown business owners and a host of local officials, including Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown, City Manager Kenneth Howard, Hinesville Downtown Develop Authority Director Michelle Ricketson — who gave Carter an HDDA t-shirt — and Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Leah Poole, among others.
Carter answered questions and expressed support for small businesses while touting his vote for tax reform and the recent omnibus spending bill, among other topics. A pharmacist and business owner for more than three decades, the former Pooler mayor said government regulation makes it tough on small businesses already facing challenges from big-box retailers and online giants such as Amazon.
Those challenges are real, but small business offers something larger retailers don’t, Cathy Thomas said.
“We offer excellent customer service,” she said.
Active in business organizations such as SCORE, a Small Business Association mentoring organization, and a real estate agent, Thomas said one of the biggest challenges her store faces is getting more businesses to invest in downtown.
“We’d like to see downtown Hinesville built up,” she said. “If we can just get more businesses to open up down here, we’ve got the Courthouse, the justice center, City Hall, the bank and Georgia Southern. We’ve got a captive audience of around 1,600 people down here Monday through Friday, and if it’s nice weather they’re out walking. There’s a lot to do, we just need people with the vision to get down here and do it.”
Thomas complimented HDDA and city efforts to bring downtown back to life. That process started for the Thomases when she and her daughter began preparing to open up for business in 2014.
“They are good, but when we renovated this space, sometimes you’d think, what else are they going to come up with for us to have to do,” Thomas said. “But when it’s done, it’s done right and you know you’ve got a good building, that everything in there is right.”
Among those who showed up to speak to Carter was James Ford, who owns a small Hinesville-based trucking company, Joe and Ja Transport. Ford told Carter he recently spent nearly two hours on the phone with state officials in Atlanta trying to resolve a problem with a license.
“There’s a disconnect between local and state government,” Ford said. “I was going to go to Atlanta, but my son told me you were coming. The thing is, nobody’s communicating.”
“They can make it so difficult,” he said. “And you just have to do what they say. That’s one of the reasons I’m so proud of tax reform. We’ve simplified it.”
From there, Carter segued into the environment, adding that “we all love our environment, this is where I’m from and I want to make sure everybody enjoys it, including future generations. But there are so many rules on the book, it’s tough enough trying to keep up with the big boxes and the internet, and your time is your money, without having to spend it on (government bureaucracy).”
Later, Ford expressed his desire to see a “living wage,” which would translate into more money invested in local businesses and the community. That led Carter to bring up tax cuts that proponents of the bill said led to $2,000 in savings on taxes for some income groups.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about with tax reform, that you can spend your money better than they can in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “They say that $2,000 is just crumbs, but it ain’t crumbs to me, and it ain’t crumbs to my family. It’s significant.”
Carter also got in a pitch for the recent omnibus spending bill, which he said included the largest pay raise for the military in more than a decade. Including Fort Stewart, there are four military installations in Carter’s district.
“It’s not a small business, but it’s an important business, and I don’t think people realize how much money it pumps into our economy,” he said.
Earlier, at Angies Diner, Carter met with owners Kevin and Angie Butler and customers having breakfast.
“They were solving some world problems there,” Carter said. “And they were not shy at all.”
Poole noted, “You were lucky you were a Republican in that room.”
Carter will face either Lisa Ring or Barbara Seidman in November. The two women are vying for the Democratic party nomination May 22.