While you may be familiar with the well-known brand, Stouffer Foods, you may not know the story of the family behind the brand. Discover the history of Stouffer Foods and be inspired by the bold courage of family members when faced with the challenge...
While you may be familiar with the well-known brand, Stouffer Foods, you may not know the story of the family behind the brand. Discover the history of Stouffer Foods and be inspired by the bold courage of family members when faced with the challenge of carrying on their business legacy amidst grief and loss.
Discover the leadership traits that helped them to be successful, to stay united as a family, and to have an impact with employees and policy makers over several decades. Jim Stouffer is President and CEO of Catawba-Cleveland Development Corporation and a Director of First Bancshares Inc., and Firelands Regional Medical Center.
As a leader in the foodservice and hospitality industry, as well as in tourism and economic development, Jim has unique perspectives and recommendations for employers who want to protect our free enterprise system and to help prepare the next generation of leaders to achieve their American Dreams.
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Linda J. Hansen: My special guest today is Jim Stouffer. Jim is the President and CEO of Catawba Cleveland Development Corporation, which includes Catawba Island Area Real Estate Development and Management of family owned businesses, Catawba Island Club and Catawba Island Marina. We are here today at the Catawba Island Club which we'll tell you more about. But it's a beautiful location on Lake Erie and you want to visit here. He is a member of the board of directors of the Firelands Symphony Orchestra, the Ottawa County Improvement Corporation, and Autobahn North Shore as well as a member of advisory board for Edge Point Capital Advisors and president of the Lake Erie Foundation. Jim is president and CEO of Catawba Cleveland Development Corporation as I mentioned, which is a family owned business that operates the Catawba Island Club, which includes hospitality. So, there's a restaurant, a hotel here, there is yacht dockage, the Arthur Hills Golf Course and Marina services. And he's developed multiple tracks of residential real estate here in Ohio. He is a director of First Bank Shares Incorporated and Firelands Regional Medical Center. As I mentioned before, Jim Stouffer is a well accomplished businessman. Not only that he comes from a family that is a well-known name in America and across the world. The Stouffer name is known for hospitality, food service and quality. So, with that, I would like to welcome Jim Stouffer. Thank you, Jim, for joining us today.
Jim Stouffer: Thank you, Linda. Welcome to Catawba Island.
Linda: Well, thank you.
Linda: Yes. Tell me a little bit about the history of Catawba Island club.
Jim: Well, we've been fortunate. This is our 52nd anniversary. My father had an incredible vision coming from Cleveland, Ohio, to Central North Central Ohio, at a time when quite frankly, Cleveland and other communities in Northern Ohio were struggling a bit financially the economics of this region. But we were always been active in the hospitality world, dating back to my great grandparents days in the early 1900s. My father carried on that tradition with Stouffer foods throughout the 50s and 60s and early 70s. And I was fortunate enough with my relationship with my grandparents, my parents to be introduced to hospitality at a young age. Catawba Island Club is really indicative of what people liked to do with family, what they like to do with their friends. And we've been honored and privileged to have staff with us for many, many years who have helped service that clientele. We are along the shores of beautiful Lake Erie. Our clients come from Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus. And as time has evolved, this become an epicenter of tourism, Cedar Point Bay nearby. It is really become I think, a family-centric focal point for people in Northern Ohio. And we're fortunate as the Midwest has recovered. Midwest has bounced back if you will in the 80s, 90s, 2000s. Boating and recreation on Lake Erie has never been stronger. So, my task over the last 35 years has been to build and develop a family business with a strong culture of hospitality and go forward in a successful fashion. I'm reaching a stage of my life for the next generation; the fifth generation of hospitality and our family is coming along. So now it's incumbent upon me to make sure I understand how we got here, and where we're going to go in the future if it's going to be successful.
Linda: That's amazing. What a beautiful family history that you have. You mentioned with the beginning of Stouffer foods, not only with your parents, but before that, so the early 1900s. Could you tell people a little bit of the history, they may not know, they have these frozen foods in their freezer, but they have no idea where they began.
Jim: Well, you know, it's actually a pretty simple formula. In those days, there were no multi-chain restaurants, everything was pretty homegrown and organic. My great grandparents were dairy farmers in Medina, Ohio. They would take sandwiches and buttermilk and apple pie to the old arcade in downtown Cleveland. As simple as that. And then as my grandfather came back from the first graduating class of Wharton, he said maybe we could grow a business from this and start expanding into restaurants. So, he and his brother Gordon decided in the early 20s to expand Stouffer foods into multiple cities not only beyond Cleveland, but Pittsburgh, New York, Detroit. And throughout the time, ultimately 63 restaurants, multiple hotels and resorts. And it was really based on the premise of good food and working with great people. And that to me was a lesson I learned at a young age. I never worked for Stouffer foods, but I had the opportunity to understand and develop that culture within my mindset, and then use it as we grew our business over the last half century.
Linda: Right. That is amazing too. And the family business really provides a work ethic for people growing up within it. And even if you don't work in the major family business, you tend to learn and see just by osmosis, you learn about considerable work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit that hangs in there during good times and bad. So, as you watched, Stouffer foods grow and as you watched it, it became part of Nestle, right?
Jim: It is, yes it's part of Nestle's.
Linda: Right. It's part of Nestle now and how did that impact your family?
Jim: Well, I think, you know, in particular, when you think of food, first and foremost, it has to be fresh, it has to be pure, it has to be consistent. And that's what my grandfather really focused on. And he would draw people to him, great dieticians, great managers, built a team and a network of professionals that knew how to do that consistently. Nestle's is the world's largest food company. So, when they acquired Stouffer's in the early 70s, you knew that they did so with a mindset of keeping that legacy going forward. And even today, the frozen food division for them, which is the last part of the company that's still active, they got out of the restaurant world, they got out of the hotel world, but Nestle's felt that the frozen food division from the frozen food product, Lean Cuisine, and different brands within that family. They did so with the basic premise of what my grandfather and grandmother, great grandmother started out with in the early 1900s. So, for me growing up as a young man, it was really expected that I was going to go to work. And I wasn't going to sit around. So, at age 13, my father said, "I hope you like living on Catawba Island," which I did. He said, "Great." He said, "What do you like doing?" I said, "Well, I like swimming and riding my bike and playing golf." He said, "Good. That's the last summer you'll have like that." He said, "You're going to go to work." And little did I know —
Linda: We love dad's like this, yes.
Jim: Exactly. I developed at a young age the opportunity over many summers of working, cooking, bartending, working in a hotel, the golf course, the Marina. I worked with some great people. And I was taught and I absorbed the fact that getting up early in the morning doing a good job. And at the end of the day, what hospitality is to me is you see the results. When you're cooking food, you see the product before you serve it to your customer. When you work on the golf course you see the fairways are manicured and beautiful. The flowers are blooming. It's an instant opportunity to get gratification and feedback on your hard work. And as young man, those summers and those years were very important to me, because sadly, when I was 19, my father passed away.
Linda: Oh, so sorry.
Jim: So, you know, it was a tremendous shock, tremendous loss for my mother and my two sisters and myself. But I was given the opportunity then as his executor and his trustee to step back and say, are we going to continue on this path. And as a family, we sat down and as I've continued my education, we said, you know what, let's keep this business. Let's see if we can grow this business. And through the loving support of my sisters and my mother, we said, let's do it. And that, quite frankly, now that I look back on my career of running our family business since the early 90s, it was a great opportunity. And I'm just, still to this day, passionate and honored that I had that opportunity. So, we just, fortunately, the same beliefs, the same premise I learned from my father, my grandfather, are the things I use today even as I almost turn 60 here shortly, so.
Linda: Well, that's great. And you know, the hospitality industry is so dependent on tourism. It is dependent on a steady flow, obviously, of visitors and things. It's interesting that Stouffer foods got out of the hospitality industry, which I mean, is such a competitive market of course and stick with what you're great at, right, and to stay in your lane, but they were great at that too. But as it developed and moved forward, I think it's such a beautiful testimony to your family. This particular facility Catawba Island Club is so beautiful and through some consulting work that I've done with other organizations in the area. I've spent a lot of time here and have been able to enjoy the shores of Lake Erie and it is just phenomenal. I know that through your work with economic development and business development, you have had an incredible impact on the job market and the economy here in this area of Ohio. Could you tell us a little bit more about your work there?
Jim: Yes. I think, you know, I learned early on if you think about hospitality, even in this country, the Marriott family, the Hilton family, you think about the Pritzker family with Hyatt, the Disney family, starting Disney World and so forth. I mean, those are very basic organic human relationships. And their success is very similar. Our family took a different path selling Stouffer foods. But if you look at today, the impact on hospitality, it comes really from the origin of family. So, in our world, when you look at workforce development, to me, when we hire someone, we hire someone with the premise we're going to work with them for many, many years. This year alone, we had five individuals retire from our organization.
Linda: Yes, one of your employees was telling me that in fact, the flowers here were part of our retirement to thank with, yes.
Jim: Exactly. Averaging almost 40 years of employment. Each one of them with us.
Linda: That shows great leadership, Jim. I congratulate you on that, that shows great leadership.
Jim: I appreciate that.
Linda: When people are loyal and engaged. I mean, you retain those employees. So, loyalty engagement and retention is something I hope to always promote through my work with Prosperity 101™, but great leadership matters, so.
Jim: Well, and you know, I get up every day humble. In the food business, you have to get up humble, because it's not always going to go perfect, number one. And I think the other factor I focus on is empathy. I think when I look at a staff member, and when I look at a customer or if I look at a vendor, I'm trying to see through their eyes, I'm trying to understand what are the things that make them happy? What are the things that will satisfy their needs and wants? We all have different dynamics that impact our world. We've all been through loss. There isn't any family I've ever met that hasn't had loss at some point. So, when I see that and I think about our opportunity to make their life and their world a little bit better, I want them to be successful. Now we have processes, we have structure, we have rules.
Linda: Of course, you have to.
Jim: Yes, you have to. But you look at them and you say to yourself, now how can they fit in and excel and succeed? And if I can do that, and all of our senior management team could do that, I think we create a culture for long term success.
Linda: That's great. Tell me a little bit about the economic development work that you've done in this area of Ohio?
Jim: Well, you know, again, we identified the fact that Cleveland has gone to a tremendous Renaissance. Toledo is going through a very strong cycle with the auto industry rebounding, in this particular economic time frame. Columbus continues to grow. So, as I come to this region, we said where can we excel? Well, we're not really trying to compete in the industrial world and our market. We are about tourism. As I mentioned, Cedar Point, The Islands, Catawba Marblehead. And so, what we've tried to do is pull all of those industries, all of those companies together, and work together to say what can we do to make it good for staffing? What can we do to make it good for the facilities? You know, I don't believe in competition per se. We compete with ourselves; we compete with our daily goals and objectives. But the reality is that if the area grows and is successful, then we will all have a part of that success. So, we've cultivated those relationships.
Linda: If the water rises, all the ships will sail.
Jim: Exactly, it's a cliché, but in fact, for a region, as you look at hospitality regions around the country, around the world, you don't want to be the orphan, you don't want to be the lone restaurant on the corner. You want multiple successful operations. So that takes bringing people to the market, bringing people academically to the market so that they feel like they can learn and grow in their field. They won't be with you forever. But if you give them the opportunity, there's tremendous growth opportunities. So, we put together what's called the Firelands Partnership, which is our local regional economic group. We started as kind of an Ad Hoc Association, but then we put together four counties to discuss and understand how we can move the region forward. Not unlike Spartanburg in Southern North Carolina, in Greenville. They felt they had to compete against Charlotte and Atlanta, Raleigh Durham. We felt we had to make sure we had a place that we could survive between the big cities. And in doing so attract talent and attract the resources, both economically and politically, to make sure the issues that are important to us had focus and attention. And I think we've done that. I think the quarter million people who live in our region understand that whether I drive across county lines or I drive across the bridge to Sandusky, I have to work together to make it a total family success. Most families today have dual income earning, you know, partners or husbands or wives. And the opportunity to make sure that you have that full economic opportunity is important. So, we've tried to stimulate that and make sure people appreciate it.
Linda: Well, you've been very successful. I mean, even in the years that I've been coming over here, I've been watching the growth. I just want to touch on something you mentioned, you talked about the economic times now, how there's been a resurgence of activity here. And what would you attribute that to?
Jim: Well, first and foremost, I think leadership counts and who our leaders are, and what they do makes a big difference. I think back to the day, not long after my father passed away, Ronald Reagan was elected president. I was listening to his inauguration speech on the radio in my car. And at the time, I had a lot of things going through my head because of all the responsibility that was trust upon my shoulders. He inspired me, he truly brought me back to the sense of there is a great future and I was only 19, 20 years old. So, at that point in time, I had to make a decision. Do we stay with this business or do we sell this business and I'll go do my thing and my sisters do their thing? Ronald Reagan inspired me and then that point in time I went from being a teenager, to a young adult, who truly had to back up and live up to my decisions and the future. Create a future for myself and my family. So, in due course, as I saw Ronald Reagan and the policies he put in place and what he did to stimulate the economy. And I learned as I was at Miami University and at Bowling Green, that the laws of economics were critical. Laws of economics are not drafted by men. They're organic. They're natural laws that help people shape their decisions. And I understood very quickly that we had to follow a path that gave people the freedom and the responsibility and accountability to make investment and get a return on their investment. In today's world we have that. We have a climate that people understand. They will invest their capital, and they will get the return they expect, through hard work and dedication. There will be failure, there will be bumps in the road, not everything will be perfect, but there's an opportunity there to sustain what they've started and build upon the future. So, you know, we have to take care of our society. We're the most philanthropic country in the world. We give back to so many great citizens of this country, that's imperative. That's important. But we do so because we have the resources to do so. And to do that we have to have success in our economic endeavors.
Linda: Comes from healthy businesses.
Jim: Healthy businesses. We can't do it without the structure that government gives us, the rules, and the guidance in some respects. But that's not what leads us to success. It's entrepreneurs and businesspeople, men and women who understand there is a path to success. And with the leadership we have in Ohio under Mike DeWine, the leadership we have with President Trump and his administration, and I do view them as administrations. It's not about one man or one woman. It's about that collective mindset and culture. And this country has been blessed to have that for over 200 years. That to me is the foundation of today's success. And it's a foundation I hope, of my children's success.
Linda: That's beautifully said. I know before we, before the cameras were rolling, basically we talked a little bit about the policies of the current administration. And as we speak today, the economy is booming. I know that minority unemployment is the lowest it's ever been in the history of our country. Minority home ownership is up, we've got the lowest jobless rate we've had in like 50 years or something. And so, I mean, it's amazing to see that policy makes such a difference. I mean, we can see it unfold before our very eyes and so helping people to understand the importance of these policies. I just want to touch on the fact that you mentioned Ronald Reagan. And you know, as you know, this interview and the program, I have with Prosperity 101 Break Room Economics™ is really to help employers educate employees about these public policy issues that affect their jobs because policy matters. And the government doesn't have anything until we give it to them first and that has to come through healthy businesses providing opportunity and economic profitability so that they could employ people, those people pay taxes, you know the cycle. Ronald Reagan, he was not a conservative economic policy person until he worked at General Electric, were you aware of that?
Linda: Yes. Okay.
Jim: After being a lifeguard —
Linda: Yes, yes.
Jim: — and summer jobs and —
Linda: Right, right. And yes, in fact, my oldest son was a Reagan fellow at Eureka College.
Jim: Oh, was he really? Yes.
Linda: We Ronald Reagan went to the college and so I really learned a lot about Ronald Reagan's beginning. But the fact that General Electric and his time there was really what helped him to shape his policy views. And so, I tell employers now, you never know who you're talking to. You have no idea that minimum wage dishwasher that you might have in the back of your kitchen or the assembly line kid that's fresh out of high school or something. I mean, you never know if you're not helping the next Ronald Reagan to understand the importance of economic policy and how to protect it for this country. So, what are your thoughts on that? Like educating employees and how to communicate things with your employees?
Jim: Well, you know, one of the things that we do, we do what's called a personality index. We actually have each staff member take a test that kind of helps define their strengths, what drives them, how they might work together as a team. Hospitality is a team sport; you don't do it all yourself. And so, you try to get people the opportunity again to shine. Let them take their strengths, where they have weaknesses, we try to mentor and coach in particular. Always tell our management team in season. When we're a very seasonal business at our peak period, but we need to mentor and coach more than we need to manage. Management occurs in the off season where we're planning and organizing, budgeting, but you're taking young adults and you're saying, "Let me help you be all that you can be." I think Ronald Reagan had that mindset. He never said, "We will do this for you." He said, "We will get out of the way, and give you the opportunity and the tools to be successful." And I think to a great extent, that is still the structure that we try to work as an employer. I think in this country, we need to become less reliant on someone doing it for us, and more able to do it ourselves. And obviously, we want a great education. We want great opportunities of structure and the economic incentive to work hard, get up early, go to work. And as you said, when you look at the numbers today, you look at the economic performance and the low unemployment rate, rising wages, those are opportunities that any generation would just love to have.
Linda: Just love to have, yes.
Jim: And we're not without our problems, but that structure is in place. So, I think we would be foolish to look beyond that and believe that somebody, some governmental entity can make it better. We have to rely upon ourselves and work within a system that encourages hard work and success.
Linda: Well, when we look at dependence on government entities, we can look across the world and across history to see when people are already dependent on government, and then that government can no longer provide for those people. Then we see rebellion, unrest, we see people fleeing their countries because the government can no longer provide.
Jim: Tragic consequences for families and cultures that have had great success through many years, and then overnight they're turned upside down.
Linda: It's policy matters.
Jim: It's stunning and policy matters.
Linda: Policy matters, and I know with Prosperity 101™ what I try to do is help people just have a basic understanding of the Constitution, basic understanding of the founding fathers intent for our country, and not, this isn't of a college-level constitution course. But so many people are so unaware and they will often go to the voting booth and vote themselves out of a job in a sense. And so, where my program and many employers across the country do not want to tell employees how to vote, or how to think or anything like that, but they do want to help them understand truth, economic truth before they do go to the voting booth. Because oftentimes, charismatic leaders can seem like they offer the moon, but in reality when that levers is pulled and you vote for that person, the policies that come down the pike end up costing you your job. So, can you think of any policies in the past that really negatively impacted your business?
Jim: Well, I think it's important that if at the end of the day that we have a strong fiscal structure. I worry about our deficit. I am a believer in that. I like to pay more taxes, if I can make —
Linda: The country's deficit. Yeah, you worry about the country's deficit.
Jim: Where the country's deficit like, but I don't mind paying more taxes when I can make more money. And then we take that money, we reinvest it in our business. We grow new opportunities, grow new streams of business and cash flow, and then that cycle repeats itself. When you overtax people, then you create that disincentive. And as we know, if you take your paycheck today, and we're taking money out for so many different things which are all important, but in fact, there does come a point that people are a disincentive wide to work hard. And likewise, your bureaucracy, I have a phrase called an institutional bureaucrat. And the bureaucracy, no matter if it's is —
Linda: Not the only one with that phrase, yeah.
Jim: Republican and Democrat, the institution bureaucracy is such a blanket on people's ability to grow their business, and their ability to think with a vision that can lead to success in the future.
Jim: So, in my involvement in different programs, I'm involved like Lake Erie Foundation, we're dealing with Lake Erie's clean water, which is critical.
Linda: Right. I'd love to have you expand on that a little bit. It's just such a beautiful effort.
Jim: Well, we live in the greatest source of freshwater in the world, the Great Lakes are 20% of the freshwater. It's a beautiful environment for eight states and two provinces of Canada. And generations almost sacrifice that in the '50s, '60s, as we had heavy industrial waste. We had unfiltered water going back in from our wastewater treatment facilities. Well, that turned around as the governors of this region and the federal EPA came in with the Clean Water Act of 1972. They made it incumbent upon each community to step up and clean their water. That was not a bad thing. It was costly. The consumer paid for it through sewer bills and water bills, but it preserved and protected our greatest resource. This is our Grand Canyon; the Great Lakes is our Yellowstone Park.
Linda: It is, so beautiful.
Jim: It cannot be taken for granted. We're dealing with situations now that the world is dealing with as we need to feed billions of people. The agriculture industry, the ag industry has done a great job of adapting to those demands and those needs, but with that have come side effects. And that side effect is impacting the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, Green Bay, any body of water, Lake Okeechobee.
Jim: So now we have to define and figure out the solutions that will solve that clean water consequence of heavy ag. People today in the world are wealthier than they've ever been. They're eating protein instead of rice and grains, and that's to be expected. If we need to work with the agriculture community and reinvest to help them produce the least amount of phosphorus and nitrogen from their farms. If we do that successfully they'll be profitable, the food industry will have the greatest supply, and we will have clean water. We live in the most food-secured nation in the world. 40% of our food production, ag production goes to ethanol, which is designed to help keep the air clean, and minimize carbon components.
Jim: Emissions. 20% of our ag is exported. We feed our entire country on 40% of our ag production.
Linda: Is not just amazing, it's... yeah.
Jim: To sounding, and it's a credit to the ag community, the academic community, and the scientific community. But with that come the consequences of too much runoff into our freshwater resources. So, we need to focus and work together. I think the region has defined what the task at hand is. Governor Mike DeWine in his administration of stepped up in Ohio, and now we're trying to make sure that we've got the right processes in place. We've got the greatest academic institutions in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa. The solution is there.
Linda: I'm from Wisconsin.
Jim: Wisconsin? Wisconsin is doing extremely well; Minnesota is doing extremely well. But it takes that combined effort. You can't do it in a silo. You can't do it with a parochial interest. It has to be shared and developed across an entire region and in this case in entire industry.
Jim: So, I do believe we have the ability to do it. Now, we have to have the will. We have to be held accountable, but to make sure that we're making progress, or we're going to devastate this great natural resource.
Linda: Right. In my political work, I have often worked on regulatory reform projects, and many times I've seen where there's a need for regulation to help an industry operate profitably and safely for the larger community. But I've often seen square peg regulations trying to fit into round hole solutions. And it frustrates me to no end. So, I tend to get in a David and Goliath fight and try to go after big whatever to solve the problem. But what you're saying here too is like these industries working together to solve a problem. And I know environmentally and with the ag community, I raised my kids in a farming community, a small town in Wisconsin, beautiful area, hardworking people. And there's a fine line between regulation that is appropriate and over-regulation, that then hampers profitability of the businesses, and it puts everybody at risk, your thoughts on like over-regulation versus appropriate legislation, or regulation. And I know that you have tried to make an impact on Capitol Hill as well. I know that you work with congressional leaders and things to help the impact policy, so it's more appropriate to the need. So, could you tell us a little bit about that?
Jim: We're pretty agnostic about what party we're working with. It comes down to the representation within our region. And we have strong representation from our Democrat and Republican leaders, but the key there is making sure that those policy changes are given the scientific and academic platform to thrive. And it's important not just to make quick decisions, knowing that everything you do, for instance, we eliminated phosphorus from our soaps, our laundry soaps and hand soap in the '70s.
Linda: I remember. I am old enough to remember.
Jim: P&G did a fabulous job of pulling that out. We built wastewater treatment plants, tertiary plants that provide wastewater treatment for all the major cities around the Great Lakes. So, we have the lowest ecological impact now we've ever had in our lifetime.
Linda: That's beautiful.
Jim: That kind of science, that kind of commitment is what we need to help the ag community go to the next level. And if we do that, I believe we'll have success that regulation has to be measured, it has to be balanced, but it also has to be consistent and It can't stop.
Linda: Well, and as someone who enjoys Lake Michigan where I live, I appreciate the fact that it's so much cleaner than when I was a child. It's just the Great Lakes are so beautiful. We can't lose them, and so it's amazing with lake.
Jim: Heavy industry made the adjustments, and we made a huge investment in their infrastructure to make that happen. We can do it with the ag community. But given the size and breadth of the ag community, it's gonna take some time, but it has to be done together and has to be done on united effort.
Linda: Well, and the beautiful thing about the times in which we're living is that the technology can advance to make sure that we can continue the prosperous life we have in a sense, but we don't have to impact the environment negatively. I know you and I met actually several years ago as I was working with a nonprofit called the eGeneration Foundation that promotes the development commercialization of molten salt reactor technologies. And as I look at these amazing small modular reactors that can provide energy so safely, nuclear energy is so clean and safe and ready and it could create a manufacturing boom in so many ways, create isotopes for the medical community. I mean, it's just an amazing technology that's actually been around. It was classified for a while but it's now had a resurgence of interest. And these are the types of things that if we, science and technology and you talk about great minds, coming together and putting politics aside, and saying, "This is what could really be beneficial for the future of our country and the future of the world, for people's health and prosperity," It's amazing. One of the things that I think about too is when I was running restaurants for my family, and we had restaurants in the Minneapolis, St. Paul area. So, as a young teenager, I grew up running restaurants. So, it was fun. Mexican restaurants, that was great. But, you got so many young people that came in and they really have no clue. They just wonder why you're not raising their wage. Why can't they have a higher minimum wage? Why all these things are taken out of their paycheck? I do have a lesson in my Prosperity 101 Break Room Economics™. It says. "What happened to the rest of my paycheck?" and it helps people understand, "These are the things that are out of your employer's control and that are being taken out of your paycheck which you alluded to earlier in the interview." But as you have been in business all of these years, and you have seen young people coming in, I mean, you get a lot of entry-level employees, entry-level employees who come in and they help with the boats, they help in the hotel, they help in the restaurant, they help with the grounds. Have you seen a change, positive or negative, or both? What have you seen as a positive change in the young people, negative change and their view of economics or their view of citizenship, their understanding of their role as a citizen? What have you seen?
Jim: We hire about 160 young staff every season.
Linda: It's amazing.
Jim: And it is quite a test. We've already started recruiting for next year right now. And I think hospitality is a unique position because in many cases is an entry-level job. It's a pathway towards learning how to show up on time, grow and mature, and understand the responsibilities.
Linda: I would say everyone should work in a restaurant.
Jim: Exactly. And it's in the minimum wage issue, by bringing the minimum wage up in certain industries, you're actually, it's a disincentive to hire people.
Jim: I don't believe that individuals can be working at that minimum wage job for very long, but it is a starting, unskilled, it's a great opportunity. Our region hires over 5,000 seasonal staff members every year just within about a 10-mile radius of here. And in due course, that job is a springboard for many young adults.
Linda: It is. It's a springboard, yes.
Jim: You can't start at an incredibly high wage because we can't afford to do that and still survive. The food industry is not a high margin, high tech industry. It's basic blocking and tackling, as we call it, of doing the job, of preparing the food and following the right script and the right recipes. So, I think in fact, the young adults who are coming in today, the biggest challenge is they are distracted. They're distracted by social media; they're distracted by their cell phones.
Linda: You have to almost have them park their cell phone in their lockers.
Jim: And almost do. But also understand those who have a natural inquisitiveness, that is a resource. So, we're not trying to take it away from them, we're just trying to create some structure. And actually, I think the young adults today I have met are smarter and more capable than ever. They have a future in front of them that is just unbelievable.
Linda: Unbelievable opportunity, right.
Jim: But you have to take that opportunity and take that raw energy and focus it. Hospitality is a way to define who you want to be, who you could be. In many cases, I'll have people say, "I'm glad I did that. I don't want to ever do that again. I'm gonna go off to law school or become a doctor or get an engineering degree or become a nurse."
Linda: Right. Hospitality industry is not for the faint of heart.
Jim: But you know, one of the I think the greatest traits, you don't want to be self-absorbed. If you're in the service industry or if you're serving others, regardless, maybe you're going into religious studies, maybe you're going into nursing or into any field. You have to understand very quickly there is a customer base, there's a client, it's your patient.
Linda: Exactly. There's always a customer.
Jim: It's your customer. If you can learn that at a young age, I think it prepares people well to understand that that is the road to success. If you go through life thinking it's all about you, have to think it's all about my time and my energy and the way I feel, again, I use the word empathy. If you can empathize about how other people feel what they need, very quickly you get out of your shell and serve them. There will be time to come back to take care of your needs, time to come back and serve what you need to take care of with your family. And that's why I'm still at this stage of my career, I still have this tremendous passion for what I do.
Linda: I can hear it. It's fantastic.
Jim: Right. It's what gets me up every day.
Linda: Right. Well, and that passion that you have is what builds leadership, in a sense. It drives you and that is infectious.
Jim: I hope so.
Linda: So yes, well, it's definitely infectious but that love and empathy and care that you show for your employees. I mean, as I work with employers to talk about policy issues with their employees, one of the main things I teach them to remember is employees do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. And I attribute that quote to Dawson Trotman, who started navigator ministries. It's a Christian ministry, and he's long gone, but that quote has been etched in my brain that they don't care how much we know until they know how much we care. So, employers like you, who exemplify through everything that they do this care and concern for their employees that it is a family of sorts, that you're showing that you care. You care when you share policy information with them. You care when you tell them about the blessings of living in a free country, and how to protect those blessings. You care when you show them compassion when there's a family emergency.
Jim: Exactly. Exactly.
Linda: There's so many things and all politics is local —
Linda: — and there's really nothing more local than our family or where we go to work every day. I mean, it's so logical when we think about it, but really people don't stop to think about how many political viewpoints and decisions are formed in our workplaces.
Linda: And so, my goal is to really help empower employers with not only courage because they might be afraid to speak up, but tools and resources so that they feel like they have proper communication. So, it's nonpartisan. It never tells someone how to vote, but it just gives them basic information. And I just want to thank you, because you exemplify that. You exemplify that in what you do as a leader in all of the different organizations that you're involved in. You exemplify that here at Catawba Island Club, and for those watching, I'd like just to tell everyone that if you have a chance to come over to the shores of Lake Erie and visit Catawba Island Club or stay in the hotel here, you won't be sorry. There's so much to do here. It's a beautiful place. Winters can be a little, you have to like snow if you come here in the winter. But don't let that stop you because it's beautiful no matter what time of year, and Catawba Island Club is a special treasure, actually. And when you think about the history of the Stouffer family, in the hospitality industry, the food industry, when you think about that, and you think about the legacy that is passed on, even now through Catawba Island Club, I hope that when you go to the grocery aisle and you look for some frozen food, you'll look and think of Stouffer Foods and maybe think of this interview. And then also think about how to communicate these simple policy issues to your employees and others that you know. It's up to us to understand the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity and how to protect our prosperity by becoming informed, involved and impactful. And that's my goal with Prosperity 101 and Break Room Economics™ and this program, and I want to thank you, Jim Stouffer, for being with us today.
Jim: Linda, thank you. I appreciate it.
Linda: If people want to contact you, how should they do that?
Jim: Well, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim: Very simple.
Linda: That's great. That's Jim Stouffer, It's S-T-O-U-F-F-E-R @cicclub.com. And if you want to reach out to me, please go to Prosperity101™, Prosperity101.org, and just fill out the contact form. So again, my name is Linda J. Hanson. I thank you very much for joining us today.
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