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Small businesses take challenges in stride

February 25, 2014
By SHELLEY HANSON , For The Times Leader

MOUNDSVILLE - From paying business and occupation taxes to finding the right employees, it's not easy to be a small business owner.

Gerald Whipkey, owner of Whipkey Heating, Plumbing and Air Conditioning, 1407 First St., Moundsville, said it is difficult today to find workers with the technical training needed for his business.

"It's tougher than it was 20 years ago. The labor force is so poor," Whipkey said, adding more high schools in the past used to offer technical-type training.

Whipkey first got interested in the business when he took a refrigeration class at John Marshall High School. He went on to a two-year technical college in Oklahoma for more training.

When he came back to the Ohio Valley, he worked for a company and then in 1983 decided to start his own business. Now his son, Jacob, is getting involved and learning about the business.

Educators are "pushing students into four-year degrees and not teaching them how to weld and work on stuff with their hands, he said. The technical part - that's the challenge I see, the skill set. Public school is not as good as it was," Whipkey said.

"We try to come out do our best and treat everyone right and take care of problems the best we can," Whipkey added.

Another challenge as a small business owner, he noted, is health insurance.

"Health care is a mess. I can't afford to give employees whole family health insurance. I can't give the family plan - there's no way. It's way too expensive to do. Per employee ... it's $600. With the family plan, add another $600," Whipkey said.

Because of not being able to afford providing family health insurance plans, Whipkey said it makes it more difficult for him to attract younger workers with families.

K.J. Burley, owner and operator of That's the Spot Massage Therapy, W.Va. 2, Moundsville, said a positive challenge to being a small business owner is keeping up with growth.

"We're in rented space now and looking for a new location because of the growth we've experienced," Burley said. "That's one of the challenges we face right now. Probably the biggest challenge in therapeutic massage is educating people about therapeutic massage. People think, I'll do it to pamper myself before vacation, rather than see it as part of wellness and holistic health care."

Many people locally, she noted, have never experienced a massage while others are using it for pain management.

"I grew up here in the valley and went to massage therapy school in San Diego. I returned because of family obligations and opened a clinic. I came from a place where 98 percent of the people had a massage to 98 percent never having a massage," Burley said. "Our focus is to help reduce pain and improve range of motion."

Burley noted she has had success in eliminating people's headaches, stress and conditions like TMJ.

"We've had a number of doctors and dentists refer patients to us for pain management," she said.

One expense the business must contend with is paying business and occupation taxes. While their main clinic is in Moundsville, they also do some work in Wheeling, making the company subject to paying that city's B&O also.

"Fortunately, massage is not subject to state sales tax," she noted.

Another challenge, she said, is that some people balk at paying for massage out of pocket instead of with their health insurance. Before Burley can start taking insurance she would need to hire a full-time person for billing and related paperwork.

"But people don't realize what a bargain massage is. We've had people pain free after three or four weeks and it's a bargain at an hourly rate. We can't guarantee that will people will be pain free in that time, but we've had a number of people who have seen significant improvements," she said. "The question is, are you willing to invest in your wellness? And how much value do you place on being out of pain?"

"Operating a business presents unique challenges, but the reward is not having to go back to being someone else's employee. I enjoy what I do and I enjoy helping make folks feel better. We want to continue to grow our practice into a full-fledged wellness center with more nutritional counseling, sample classes in yoga and Tai Chi ... I'm concerned about the health of West Virginians. West Virginia is No. 1 in heart disease, No. 3 in obesity and No. 5 in diabetes - all preventable and reversible with natural, holistic means," Burley added.



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