Southern Illinois can be a unique place. Some things are the same everywhere, though … all over America, our economy is founded on small businesses.

When Gene and Betty Hoots started a little burger stand called "Burger King" in Mattoon, Illinois, the world was a very different place. I was just starting grade school, and our country was really getting into the groove of one of the greatest economic runs in our history after World War II

Today, that burger stand is still standing, but the country around it has changed. As we cruise deeper into the 21st century, the economy is doing well for some, but it is getting harder for others. In the early 50s when Gene Hoots was starting his Burger King, another restaurant was starting with the same name in Jacksonville, Florida. Today that Burger King, the one that franchised and grew across the world is worth nearly $30 billion dollars. (But if you ask me and my campaign staff, the shakes and fries are better in Mattoon!)

Jeff talks with Ernie Drummond, current owner of Burger King in Mattoon, Il
Jeff talks with Ernie Drummond, current owner of Burger King in Mattoon, Il

The Burger King in Mattoon is a success story of dedication and long-term commitment to keeping a small business going through changing times. It is a business we can be proud of, and proud to have in the 55th senate district.

Winners and Losers

For every success story, though, there are many failures. Opening a business is hard, and with our economy lagging in Southern Illinois, keeping one alive is even harder.

The choices our legislators are making in Springfield are not making things any easier for small businesses either. Whether it is stifling legislation about workers comp or increasing taxes, small companies usually feel the burden first.

One of the more recent decisions by our state was to pass a minimum wage increase that could threaten many small businesses across the state. Wages across the country have flatlined for many years, but we can't fix that by raising wages if that puts companies out of business entirely. Labor is one of the highest costs for small businesses like restaurants, and a minimum wage hike is proving to be a whopper of a bill some can't swallow.

Small businesses usually run on small profit margins as local people work together to weather the ups and downs of the economy. Placing a burden of higher minimum pages on restaurants, cafés, and so many other businesses could end up causing them to close — damaging our economy further rather than helping it.

So what's the Answer?

As your state senator, I would introduce a bill to regionalize the minimum wage. What works in Chicago may be necessary to keep up with the high cost of living in a city, but downstate things are different. Introducing legislation to allow rural areas of the state to handle the minimum wage differently could save thousands of jobs and keep the dreams of many small businesses alive.

In the meantime, if you find ourself in Mattoon, drop in on the original Burger King, still running strong well over half a century after it started. You won't be disappointed.