Shop owners in Beckley, WV, are upset that a government-funded repair shop is able to undercut them on prices. Bobbi Thomas Bailey, director of the Raleigh County Community Action Association, maintains that the new shop is not stealing business from the other shops.
Below is the article as it appeared on The Register-Herald website.
Director says, ‘We’re not stealing anyone’s business’
By Jim Workman
BECKLEY A new business opened last month in Raleigh County.
Action Auto Repair raised its garage doors to customers at Raleigh Mall in a space between Gabriel Brothers and Big Lots.
But not everyone is happy about it.
Some area auto repair garage owners are expressing concerns about unfair competition because of the new business’ tie to the Raleigh County Community Action Association, which opened the business with federal dollars provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus money.
“Raleigh County Community Action opened Action Auto Repair in April,” RCCAA executive director Bobbi Thomas Bailey confirmed. “It is a program of the Raleigh County Community Action Association. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. All the money that the garage brings in goes right back into the program to continue to be able to serve low-income people. Once the grant goes away (in September), the garage will have to be able to be self-sustaining. There is no individual that owns it.
“It is a mechanic training and auto garage,” Bailey added. “We work on our own vehicles as well as community vehicles. We are in partnership with the (Raleigh County) vocational school. They send their students over to us to get hands-on training in auto mechanics.
“We service low-income individuals with a discount, which is exactly what our mission is to serve low-income individuals. If you fall at 150 percent or below in poverty level, you will get a 15 percent discount on your vehicle repairs.
“This garage fits well within our mission.”
Part of more than $500,000 in federal grant money went toward the garage project.
“We did receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money to fund this garage,” Bailey said. “Obviously that ends on Sept. 30 of this year. Of course, the garage will continue to operate after that point.
“The grant began July 1 of 2009,” Bailey added. “The garage project didn’t actually start until April 2010. The total grant was about $529,000, but it all didn’t go to the garage. We’re doing other services with that grant. It’s a federal grant.”
Bailey disagreed with the competition aspect.
“We are providing a service for individuals that can’t afford to go to another garage,” she said. “Every three years, we do a community needs assessment and transportation is always one of the leading needs in the community. We identified in that need that people cannot afford to get their autos repaired. So we are providing that service so they can get their repairs at a reasonable price that they can afford to pay.
“The vast majority of the people that come to the garage are people that can’t afford $65 to $70 an hour for repairs (elsewhere). We’re not stealing anyone’s business. We’re serving people that can’t afford to go anywhere else.
“This is no different than the government giving private businesses tax breaks, except we’re a nonprofit and we get grants where a private business would get a tax break to put people to work,” Bailey added.
“The purpose of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money was to stimulate the economy and create jobs. We did. We have five new jobs at the garage that will continue after ARRA is over. We used our ARRA dollars to do exactly what they were meant to do. It’s stimulus money.”
With other various projects the RCCAA is involved in, Bailey expressed curiosity to any opposition of the garage.
“To pick the garage to have an issue with is odd,” she said, “because every service we provide technically competes with somebody. We serve 381 Head Start kids in Raleigh County. These are all low-income children. But our Head Start competes with private day care. They’re getting service through us because of a federal grant.
“Public transportation runs on a federal grant; that takes away from taxi services. But the reason these services are so necessary is we’re serving low-income people that can’t afford to pay for a taxi or day care. That’s why we provide the services.”
The garage also serves as a money-saver for the RCCAA, Bailey points out.
The RCCAA fleet of vehicles once was serviced at other area garages.
“We have a fleet of vehicles that we now service for ourselves,” she said. “It is a very big money savings. We only have to pay the actual cost of hourly wages and parts when we service our own vehicles.”
Andy Austin, the director of the garage training program, is also the RCCAA’s transportation director. He said not all area garages are considering the new venture as competition.
“Some of the (garage) vendors that we used in the past have called us with their support,” he said. “They say, ‘You have been good to us for years, so we’d like to help you in any way that we can. Why can’t we partner with you, and if there is something you can’t do, contact us and see if can work together and vice versa?’ They’ve shown us a lot of support.”
Certified mechanics who perform the majority of the work and training are employed by Raleigh County Community Action.
But students are gaining experience.
“We’re working with the students through ACT (Academy of Career and Technology),” Austin said. “We’re really helping their students because they’re getting hands-on time that they normally wouldn’t receive through vo-tech.
Bailey expressed hopes the uncommon business plan will provide a service to the community.
“It is unique,” she said. “I don’t know of any other community action agencies that are doing this. I know there is a garage in Charleston that fixes donated cars and gives them to low-income people. But I think we may be the only one doing the reduced rate auto repair. It is a new and innovative project at Raleigh County Community Action.
“We’re excited about it. We’ve planned this for quite a while.”
“(Bailey) listened to what the people were saying; they needed to be self-sufficient,” Austin said. “She took that and ran with it and came up with what I think is an incredible idea that I think will be great for the community.”
To read this article on The Register-Herald website, visit http://www.register-herald.com/local/x892952276/Director-says-We-re-not-stealing-anyone-s-business.
To read other articles about Action Auto Repair in Beckley, WV, visit:
Repair Shop Offers Discounted Repairs to Low-Income Families [VIDEO]
WV Shop Owners Oppose Government-Funded Repair Shop