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Two Arizona business owners share challenges, successes at House hearing

WASHINGTON - One business has been around almost five decades and another for fewer than 10 years, but both Arizona firms were held up as success stories Wednesday at a House committee hearing on manufacturing and job creation.

Anthony Wanger of IO Data Centers in Chandler and Shelly Gibbons of Quik Mart in Tucson were among 14 small-business owners who shared their successes and challenges with the House Committee on Small Business.

The hearing, "Made in the U.S.A.: Stories of American Manufacturers," was called to highlight the fact that just 3,500 of the nation's 259,000 manufacturing firms have 500 or more employees, according to the Census Bureau.

A committee memo announcing the hearing, which was held to mark National Small Business week, said that, "In contrast to the view held by many, most manufacturers are small businesses."

That is the case for IO, which employs about 385 people and operates data centers in Phoenix and Scottsdale, with a 160,000-square-foot factory in Chandler. Wanger said the company had trained people who had been residential contractors and others who were unemployed.

"They came to work at the factory after a quick training program, and that's been a very positive story for us," he said.

"Our existing operations, distributed sales force and ongoing expansion activities give IO a front-row view of the interplay between small business and global markets, and the associated impact on local communities across the USA," Wanger testified.

Despite the fact that IO is hiring at the rate of one employee per workday, there are still challenges, he said.

"People are our lifeblood, but today in our website we have more than 30 job openings," Wanger said. "Most of these we have trouble filling are in the very specialized areas like software development, electrical and multiple-discipline engineering."

To solve the problem, Wanger said his company has started to work with university partners and has "plans to expand our innovation and research activities."

Unlike a technology company, finding the right employees is not an issue for Quik Mart, Gibbons said. The company, which has grown from three Pima County stores since its start in 1965 to 27 today, has kept many people employed throughout years, she said.

"We have even had many generations of family members work for Quik Mart," Gibbons said. "People like working for us because we are local."

Since Quik Mart stores are not franchised, Gibbons said that "if one store is not doing well and hurting the company's bottom line, we will close it."

But running a family-owned small business also has its downside.

"It is just hard to get the word out and try to convince people that it's better to go to a local place than big fancy corporations," she said during a break in the hearing.

She said a slow economy has aggravated the usual convenience store problems, leading to "more shoplifting, beer skips and robberies with people out of work and desperate."

"We open 24 hours a day, which means we are also open to robberies 24 hours a day," Gibbons said.

And there are the big expenses all businesses face - payroll tax and health insurance.

"We employ over 170 people," Gibbons said. "Providing health insurance for our employees through the company or paying the penalty and sending our employees to the exchange will be a huge expense."

But Gibbons is proud of running a small business in Arizona and she called Wednesday's hearing a great opportunity to share experiences and let more people realize the role of small businesses.

"The government does need to do something to help out small businesses, it's the way to get people back to work," she said.

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