Sometimes costs go up. Energy prices surge, or interest rates start to increase uncomfortably, or the cost of merchandise or supplies grows hurtfully as inflation eats away at any modest profit that had been made. These are tough times when you run a business, and most cost increases just send the money out of state. But they happen, and will happen again. Maine businesses are no strangers to struggle.

However, when every customer has more money for homes, or carpentry, or solar roofs, healthier groceries, or even more comfortable shoes, businesses thrive. Henry Ford understood this, and raised his workers pay when he started Ford Motor Company from $3.50 an hour to $5. All of his delighted and committed workers bought Fords, and 70 years later, I did too. And during the financial crises, when its chief competitor, GM, became Government Motors, Ford continued to run successfully.

Paying people a living wage, helping them grow, appreciating them, and being loyal to them are all part of running a successful business. Many Maine businesses understand that, and that is why 600 small Maine businesses have signed on to support the referendum issue of raising the minimum wage. The good people who work for them are all their collective customers.

Poverty is a terrible burden, and is placed most frequently on women in minimum-wage jobs, and, even worse, on their children. Nationally, 51 percent of the children in our public schools live in poverty and with food insecurity. Maine is a slightly poorer than average state. In this environment, it’s not likely that most of these children will maximize their education or potential. And their potential determines Maine’s potential. Will we have young people who have studied hard, who believed that they could achieve great things? If so, Maine will have a solid future. If not, Maine has very serious hazards ahead.

The minimum-wage referendum, Question 4 on the Nov. 8 ballot, raises the bar slowly, bringing the minimum wage only to $9 an hour in 2017, and just to $12 an hour in 2020. Tipped workers move to $5 an hour, and reach $12 in 2024. Portland moved to $10.10 a year ago, and is on its way to $12. The Portland Chamber of Commerce is not aware that it has created any problems, and there are clearly many grateful for this change.

Raising the minimum wage will clearly make the role of many moms and their children a bit easier, and it will make it easier for voters to support school budgets. It also may make welfare less necessary for others.

Improving Maine’s schools is probably the most important step we can take in economic development, and paying people a bit more will help to achieve this, as well as improve the general economy. Let’s help Maine people out of poverty by voting yes on Question 4, and raise the minimum wage.

Jim Wellehan is president and co-owner of Lamey-Wellehan, a Maine-based store chain.

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