No to Progressive Tax Story #3: Althea Mottl of Atlas Tool Works
Becoming an “HR go-to” is what brought Althea Mottl back into the family business full time after working part time as a mom with young children.
But that’s not all she does now for Atlas Tool Works in Lyons, Illinois.
Needing to know what employee skills would be required for upcoming jobs led Althea into production managing – in addition to overseeing the company’s human resources.
As a result, she’s well aware of how difficult it is to find skilled team members in a world where the next generation is more prone to keyboard careers rather than making the very things they need and want.
Add to that the challenge of attracting those increasingly rare, talented employees to a small family business over more glamorous international corporations.
That’s just part of why Althea Mottl is frustrated with Springfield politicians attempting to change Illinois’ flat income tax to a progressive tax this November. Giving the Illinois General Assembly permanent authority to raise taxes as they wish, when they wish, and on whom they wish would make it even more difficult to compete with the big guys.
“We’re in Cook County where property taxes are already some of the highest in the nation. Like other businesses, we pay state income taxes for our employees. Being hit with higher state income taxes would affect what we can offer in wages and benefits,” Althea said.
“We are competing with big corporations for the best employees, and another tax hike would definitely make it more difficult to offer benefits that make us competitive.”
Illinois’ small businesses carry much of the state’s tax load already, she said.
“I feel like the deck is stacked against us. We’d like to offer higher wages, but as the taxes go up, something’s got to give somewhere,” she said. “We’d rather pay our employees more than pay higher taxes. That’s where we want to invest.”
Althea, her brother Zach and sister Hilary make up the fourth generation of Mottls that have worked day and night to make products for several crucial industries, including aerospace, defense and medical.
“We’re an essential business in this COVID pandemic, so not only have we been busy producing, we’ve been recruiting and hiring over the past several months,” she said. “During this time, we’ve prioritized our medical and defense industry customers. We make parts for disinfecting robots and respirator components and are focused on keeping those customers as supplied as possible.”
But to meet their customers’ urgent demands, happy team members is a necessity. For Althea, there’s nothing more important than caring for Atlas employees – especially during the trying times the COVID pandemic brought on.
Atlas Tool Works, which boasts of nearly 50 percent of their team being women in an industry dominated by men, faced unique challenges as several are single women whose childcare centers temporarily closed. One female employee had to take the COVID childcare leave. Others needed flexible working schedules.
“Our employees have struggled a bit – especially women – to get their children cared for while they come to work,” she said. “We’re doing the best we can to help them, but the more the state taxes us, the less we’re able to do to support our employees.”
Making a manufacturing business work well means planning ahead for budget overhead years in advance. Yet another Illinois tax hike will make it even more difficult to stay in business in Illinois.
“It will be a little bit frightening,” Althea said. “Our profit margins are already slim. What are we going to have to give up to make up for even higher overhead? It will negatively affect our employees and the business as a whole.”
It would be painful for Atlas to relocate elsewhere from a building the family bought in the 1950s. So many employees have worked there for decades – and have vested interest in keeping their jobs in the area.
“We have people that walk to work. We like to hire local area people as much as possible. So, picking up and going to another state isn’t an easy alternative,” she said.
All this is why Althea was willing to talk about her concerns with Illinois’ proposed progressive tax change.
She’s hoping voters will think wider and deeper about the ballot question, beyond how the slick and expensive TV ads make it appear. The ads make it seem like the tax will cost only billionaires and fat cats. That’s simply not the case. It will affect family businesses like Atlas Tool Works and every single one of their employees.
“When we make business decisions, we don’t ask what’s best for the Mottls, we ask ‘What’s best for the whole group here?’”
That’s a question Illinois voters would be wise to ask themselves when considering the progressive tax hike in November, she says.
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