How national politics are affecting four businesses in the Monadnock Region

  • Kristofer Henry, owner of 44 Bikes, assembles a bike in his workshop in Lyndeborough. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton

  • Kristofer Henry, owner of 44 Bikes, in his workshop in Lyndeborough. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Kristofer Henry, owner of 44 Bikes, in his workshop in Lyndeborough. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Kristofer Henry, owner of 44 Bikes, in his workshop in Lyndeborough. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Connolly Brothers Dairy Farm in Temple is partnering with Francestown Village Foods, now based in Milford, to supply ground beef for the food company's small farm products line. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/13/2020 8:55:11 PM

“We worry about this stuff on a national level, but if we can support our local businesses ... it buffers the effects of some of the national stuff that's going on,” Chris Connolly, a dairy farmer from Temple said.

He was speaking to the unpredictable effects of national policies and politics as they affect local industries.

The Ledger-Transcript interviewed representatives from four different local businesses, representing a diversity of scale and product type, to speak on how national political decisions are currently affecting their business. 

Guns

“Every time they talk about more gun control it increases our sales,” Old Glory Guns and Ammunition owner Dana Ryll said. “We don’t really enjoy that, we like people to buy guns because they like guns and want to go target shooting or hunting, not because they might never have the opportunity again.”

“There are always things going on [in national politics], as they bubble to the surface and it gets a little bit louder,” Ryll said, he’ll begin to meet customers in the store who say they came because a policy issue was in the news.  

In recent memory, he said, two different men in their late seventies came to the Greenville store, asking “What can you tell me about handguns, I want to buy one while I still can.” Ryll said he only sold to the one man of the two who knew something about guns, and directed the other to take some lessons before making a purchase.

This year, he said, there hasn’t seemed to be much unfolding on the national stage driving sales.

“Closer to the election, I'm sure business will increase,” he said, and the next president’s stance on guns will certainly affect sales beyond the election.

Business has been good in the shop this year, but Ryll credits that more to the store’s new location than any political cause.

Dairy

The ongoing international trade negotiations are not directly affecting Connolly, but he said that’s mostly because wholesale dairy prices had been volatile long before any tariffs were imposed. To Connolly, the current trade wars are “just another factor” that make it hard to turn a profit, along with ongoing issues like overproduction and a declining market for cow’s milk. 

Connolly said that current international trade negotiations: the trade war between the US and China, and the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA), have more direct impacts on large commodity grain and livestock operations, which are more prevalent in other parts of the country. He’s seen the effects of the tariffs in lower prices for the grain he purchases as a result of the tariffs, but also lower corresponding wholesale prices for the milk his farm produces. This year, the federal Farm Service Agency offered subsidies intended to make up for drops in prices due to the trade negotiations, he said.

“We'd all like a wholesale milk price that's more realistic to the cost of production and where the milk is utilized,” Connolly said. “We have no direct control over the wholesale price.”

As farmers, “we can't negotiate to say [that because] our input costs have gone up 25 percent this year, we need a 25 percent raise.” His own operation, the Connolly Brothers Dairy Farm, began to shift to direct-to-consumer sales, which give them a better return than wholesale prices, more than twenty years ago.

“We bottle our own milk, and make ice cream, and sell everything we can here that we produce. That way, we have more control over our pricing,” he said. 

One federal-level change Connolly said he’s glad to see is this past year’s introduction of crop insurance for extreme weather events. He said it stands to provide the biggest benefit to vegetable farmers, whose crops are especially vulnerable to fluctuations in precipitation and temperature, but he said his farm is looking into insuring their hayfields under the new allowances.

Connolly said he doesn’t usually pay much attention during national elections, and that “you never know” whether a candidate will actually deliver the help they promise. 

“The best way to support your farms is to buy local,” he said. 

He is watching the “New Hampshire’s Own” campaign roll out from the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture. The program uses a $0.50 price premium for milk produced in-state, which is used to promote the product and to deliver a higher price to the participating producers.

Bicycles

Kristofer Henry is the owner of the one-man operation 44 Bikes, an LLC he started in 2012. Henry makes custom – built road and mountain bicycles out of a workshop at his home in Lyndeborough. He said he almost immediately experienced the effects of the Trump Administration’s tariffs on raw materials such as steel and aluminum.

“Within weeks ... all raw material costs went up.  That includes all products made from those raw materials downstream. This had an impact on every single physical part that goes into building a bicycle frame.”

He said the increase in materials costs required him to pass price increases on, which is affecting his profits.

Henry describes his customers as people who have been bicycling for years, and are ready for a “dream bike” that incorporates all their favorite features in a way that stock bicycles can't accommodate. Henry’s bicycles are boutique products, and can cost anywhere between $3,500 and $10,000 depending on a customer’s preferences. Most of his customers have a lot of disposable income, he said, but he’d recently been seeing more lower-income customers who were willing to splurge because they valued a personal rapport with their bike manufacturer, and a US-made product.

“Some save up for years just to purchase one of my bikes,” he said.

Although his customer numbers have stayed steady overall, Henry said he’s seeing fewer lower-income customers now.

It helps that his product, high-end bicycles, has a lot of value added, he said, but he feels like he’s “just treading water” since material costs increased. Henry doesn’t see costs coming down any time soon, either.

“You can’t just pick up and buy American,” he said of the raw materials companies affected by the tariffs. “They have to scale up, invest in technology they didn’t have,” he said, which can take years.

Even then, he said, “When have you ever seen the price of a gallon of milk go down?”

“The second facet that directly impacts me as a business owner is health care,” Henry said.

As a small business owner, he said he’s pretty much in the situation of any other American without employer-provided health insurance. He and his wife purchase insurance from the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace.

“When I’ve actually needed my health care, I’ve had to pay the monthly premiums in addition to paying largely out of pocket for most if not all of the costs associated,” he said, adding that he feels like he has “no voice” as a business owner in the political scene due to the small size of his enterprise.

He said that he wants to see a directly competitive public health care option.

Paper

“One thing that has affected our business are Chinese tariffs,” Monadnock Paper Mills Chairman and CEO Richard Verney said, with the effects becoming most notable in the past four to six months.

He said the company’s Chinese customers stopped ordering because Monadnock Paper Mills’ products are no longer competitive under the tariffs, which means the paper mill operates fewer days out of the year.

In addition, the tariffs put Chinese companies in direct competition with Monadnock Paper Mills for raw materials.

“The Chinese are buying the Canadian pulp mills and directing more of that tonnage to China, so the bottom line is we have fewer raw materials suppliers,” he said.

Even though there’s been a boon of wastepaper in America following China’s 2018 decision to stop accepting it as a feedstock, he said it’s too low-quality of a source for Monadnock Paper Mills to take advantage of it. 

Verney said he’s observed a recent thaw in the tariff negotiations, and hopes that “​​​at some point … we'll get back to normal with a non-tariff commerce world. It does seem like the two countries are talking and making some progress.”

Verney expressed concern over the effects of the recent assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. 

“I don't think the implications are fully understood by anybody,” Verney said, including how the action will affect oil prices.

He said that oil prices have a somewhat lower impact on operating costs than pulp, but are still significant.

“This could be a huge geopolitical disruption,” he said, citing previous international events disrupting oil costs during his 51-year tenure with the company.

As for the 2020 election, Verney foresees potential issues for the paper mill if a Democrat takes office.

“Every single democrat that's running for office says they're gonna increase corporate taxes,” he said. “If they implement what could be regarded as anti-business policies, obviously we'll be affected.” 


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