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When you run a small business, you develop a special relationship with the people who work for you and help you grow it.

We have 106 employees at two of our Sprankle’s Neighborhood Markets and want to keep them all. That has been hard because we haven’t been able to afford health insurance for staff in our stores in Armstrong and Butler counties.

I realize, especially after going through the last year, how important those benefits are to our employees. The skyrocketing cost of health insurance is something that our country must commit to resolve. It is inconceivable that you need to tell your staff that it is just too expensive, particularly during a pandemic, to help them.

What that means is employers have to get creative, think of new ways to increase revenue to pay for benefits. For us it was adding skill games to our stores. As a result, starting this month, employees in our Saxonburg and Kittanning stores can receive health benefits. (We plan to add our Leechburg store employees when we can afford to.)

This means a 19-year-old employee with a serious health condition can keep her health insurance. She had been on her father’s benefits but he recently lost his job. One of our meat wrappers, who suffers from stomach issues, has been avoiding the doctor because of the cost and now can seek out the care she needs.

Adding something with a $60,000 price tag to your expense sheet can be hard for a business that can have tight margins, depending on the time of year. But running a small business makes you think creatively to stay ahead.

I didn’t know adding skill games would mean providing employee health insurance when we first brought the machines into our stores. We added skill games to the supermarkets for the same reason we now have sushi: We thought it was something different and hoped it would increase our revenue.

Telling employees that they could get health insurance was a highlight for me as a business owner. It will help me retain my great employees and be a selling point when I hire new ones. We also are using money from skill games to pay for employee lunches, again in an effort to get the best staff.

When small businesses, social clubs and veterans groups talk about the help they get from skill games, it is not hyperbole. I know from conversations that restaurants and bars have been able to pay their bills and staff because they have skill games. Due to the pandemic, there are VFWs, American Legions and fraternal clubs that would not even be open today if they didn’t have the extra revenue they receive from skill games. The money has always been needed, but over the last year it has been critical.

Skill-game revenue also finds its way into communities. Businesses and organizations use these funds for local charitable giving efforts. We are doing a fundraiser for the Salvation Army this month and skill-game money will help us meet our charitable goal.

I understand there are conversations in Harrisburg about legislation to regulate these games, provide enforcement of them and give additional tax revenue to the state. Pennsylvania lawmakers should visit businesses like mine if they want to see the real difference skill games can make.

They can just ask my employees who now have health insurance.

Ryan Sprankle is an owner of Sprankle’s Neighborhood Markets and resides in North Buffalo Township, Armstrong County.

First Published April 12, 2021, 5:45am in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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