Asheville, North Carolina, where our factory is located and where the majority of our 100+ employees live, has been one of the top 10 most rapidly gentrifying cities in the country for at least five years. The pandemic only exacerbated that, with folks in metro areas escaping to the mountains for more room to breathe. What that means, of course, is rapid inflation of property value, sky-high rent, and a boom in tourism set on top of inefficient infrastructure and an extremely limited job market with mostly low-wage jobs. People are being displaced from their homes and neighborhoods and (this should be a surprise to no one by now) Black and brown communities in Asheville have been the hardest hit.
The state of North Carolina's minimum wage is in line with the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which is to say—utterly despicable and criminal. Our mission and values guide us to live up to our ideals now and always, not in some future where everything is perfect and easy. Adjusting the minimum wage from $15 an hour to $20 an hour and adjusting pay grades accordingly is a financially risky move for the business: it will add about $1.2 million dollars to our annual payroll expense. But it is a calculated risk that centers our values in balance with financial discipline. We could not have done this without the growth that we managed to pull off in the past 2 years—this would have been the wrong minimum wage for 2019 or 2020 but it's the right one for where we’re at now, thanks to the incredible work done by every member of our team, in every corner of the business.
We have been #LivingWageCertified for several years now, at a rate set by a fabulous organization here in town called @justeconomics, who just set the Buncombe County Living Wage at $17.30/hr or $15.80/hr with employer-provided health insurance. But even though we had been exceeding Just Economics living wage, we were continuing to see our entry-level employees struggling to secure housing close to work and pay off fundamental expenses like car and cell phone payments.
Our goal is to bring up our minimum wage to what MIT's Living Wage calculator defines as a "Family Living Wage,” which is $22.20. We're not there yet, but we are pumped to have reached this milestone to round out the past 13 months of heightened fears around financial security. Shout out for real to every single person on the East Fork team for busting their butts this year to make this happen, and to you—our customers—who continue to fill your homes with our work, despite knowing full well you could be getting plates, bowls, and all that jazz for 1/18 of the price from a box store. Thank you.