CINCINNATI — Capitalism in the United States needs an overhaul, and Cincinnati businesses could help lead the way.
So says Tom Williams, and he ought to know.
Williams is a commissioner for the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism – a national group working to make economic systems function better for everyone -- and a founder of the Workforce Innovation Center at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
He also has deep roots in the Cincinnati business community as president and CEO of Downtown-based North American Properties and a principal owner of both the Cincinnati Reds and Skyline Chili Inc.
But perhaps most importantly when it comes to inclusive capitalism, Williams is co-founder of Nehemiah Manufacturing Co., a business he and Dan Meyer created in 2009 to bring manufacturing jobs back to Cincinnati’s inner city.
“Capitalism is not working for everybody,” Williams said.
“What we’ve learned – and we’ve learned it in spades at Nehemiah,” he added, “you practice inclusive capitalism, your company will do better financially, and that’s been demonstrated time and time again.”
Williams and leaders of some of Greater Cincinnati’s largest employers will share that message Tuesday during an online forum called “Inclusive Capitalism in Action.” The virtual event will run 1-3 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
“Lots of employers have made the decision to support their employees in different ways,” said Audrey Treasure, executive director of the Workforce Innovation Center. “What the event on the 27th does is give us a platform to talk a bit about how the Workforce Innovation Center can help meet companies where they are and help them advance where they’d like to go and also, as Tom said, celebrate what companies have already been doing.”
The CEOs and key executives from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Procter & Gamble Co., Nehemiah and The Kroger Co. will discuss steps they are taking to enhance their workplaces for employees and how their actions are helping their businesses.
‘Straight to the bottom line’
Nehemiah has made a name for itself locally and across the country for the success it has hiring people with prior felony convictions who have served their time. The company produces consumer packaged goods such as Kandoo kids personal care products and Tide Washing Machine Cleaner.
Williams said Nehemiah’s hiring approach has reduced turnover at the company to less than 15%.
“Which is unheard of in that industry,” he said. “The productivity of these folks that work there, the loyalty. They’d run through a wall for us, so all this went straight to the bottom line.”
The company also pays a living wage, offers opportunities for advancement and has people on staff who can help employees when they have trouble with child care, transportation or other basic needs.
But Nehemiah hasn’t stopped there, Treasure said.
“They’re offering $5,000 in matching funds to help people pay for a down payment who want to buy their own home,” she said. “That’s something new they figured out that they could do to support their people and help them get ahead.”
And that’s the message behind inclusive capitalism, she and Williams said.
Company leaders shouldn’t think it means they have to do everything all at once.
Some businesses start by providing bus passes or offering tuition reimbursement for employees who want to further their educations. Others expand their health care coverage to include more workers. Many have begun raising wages to attract – and keep – the talent they need to keep their businesses running, Treasure said.
“I do believe that the CEOs and the leaders across this country of the private sector do realize that capitalism needs to work better for everybody,” Williams said.
They realize that widening income inequality in the U.S. is a problem for everyone and if left unchecked, he said, will have negative consequences for the nation.
“Immediately you’re going to have an expansion of government programs,” he said. “If people are not getting paid the wages that they need to get paid, then they’re on government programs.”
The COVID-19 pandemic showed how close to the edge so many families live across the income spectrum, Treasure added.
“Things like food pantry lines being miles long for people to drive up because they lost their job this week, and they can’t buy groceries next week,” she said. “We have to find a way to make changes from within this system because we believe that a free-market economy is part of who we are as a nation. So let’s value the dignity of work through appropriate compensation and supports that help you run a healthy business and help people have the freedom to live their lives.”
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.