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National Restaurant Association - Restaurateurs can drive economic development, NRA chair tells local leaders

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Restaurateurs can drive economic development, NRA chair tells local leaders

Restaurateurs are enthusiastic partners in helping cities, counties and localities grow economic opportunity, National Restaurant Association Chairman Roz Mallet told a gathering of local leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., for a National League of Cities event March 13.

Mallet was the sole private-sector representative on a panel on "Economic Development That Works in an Economic Downturn." The presentation was held during the National League of Cities' annual conference in Washington, D.C., which attracted county executives, city council members, mayors and other local officials from around the country.

The restaurant industry is projecting industry sales of $632 billion this year at 970,000 restaurant locations, Mallet said. She noted that about half of all American adults have worked in restaurants at some point during their lives, and one of three say their first job was in the restaurant industry. Restaurants employ nearly 13 million Americans, about one in 10 working Americans.

"We are the type of industry that can grow jobs and opportunities and help you address those employment needs in your cities," Mallet told the local officials. "The jobs in our industry are varied, professional, and can result in a long-term career that involves management and business creation."

She noted that restaurateurs have been critical partners in helping cities revitalize downtown areas and create livable communities where people want to work, shop and recreate.

She urged the local leaders to collaborate with restaurateurs on economic growth. She cautioned that restaurant businesses can be extremely sensitive to disruptions in the regulatory and legislative environment. "We are an industry made up of tens of thousands of small business that not only operate on razor-thin margins, but are also very labor intensive," she said. "What that means is that our average 'profit per employee' is very low. In fact, in an average restaurant, it will rarely exceed $2,500 in profit per employee."

"So we are an industry that is poised to grow and help create jobs in your cities as long as the public policy environment remains conducive to that growth," she said. "A mandated wage increase here or a paid leave mandate there may be just an additional cost to some businesses, but they can be catastrophic to business like ours -- those same businesses that are the job creators."

Local leaders at the event were especially interested in the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's ProStart program, a two-year curriculum for high school students. ProStart currently reaches 90,000 students nationwide in 1,700 schools in 45 states. The program helps develop students' culinary and other skills so they can have a successful career in restaurants, and teaches them the business and management side so they can one day run a restaurant. Mallet told the officials that the restaurant industry would welcome the chance to work with local leaders to synch the industry's workforce training with community job-development programs.


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