Attracting more entry-level employees, paying workers a living wage and making signage regulation consistent  were the marquee topics local business owners and aspiring Lakeway politicians discussed Feb. 15 at the Lakeway Activity Center.

City Council Member Louis Mastrangelo on Friday hosted a roundtable event geared toward addressing various concerns related to the local business climate.

Besides business owners, two city council candidates, Lisa Butler and Julie Reichert, and one mayoral candidate, Tom Kilgore, attended the Feb. 15 event.

“The idea is to give the business community the opportunity to share with us the difficulties in doing business with Lakeway,” Mastrangelo said prior to the event. “Because if there’s one thing I’ve heard the entire time I was running [for City Council in November] and before was that Lakeway is very difficult to do business with.”

Promoting business

Mastrangelo said he wanted to seek feedback on what kinds of initiatives, such as the sign code, city officials can take on to help people promote and grow their businesses. In the long run, Lakeway wins when the city collects more sales tax, he said.

During his second meeting in December as a council member, he said he voted to approve an amended sign ordinance mainly because Lakeway was not in compliance with federal sign regulation.

Council felt an urgency to pass that change, Mastrangelo said, but he is also willing to amend the city sign code further to be more business-friendly.

“My goal is to even it out across the city,” he said, alluding to the fact that current city code allows for different sign aesthetics in different parts of the city.

Easing regulations governing sign color throughout various commercial and residential corridors within Lakeway was also a much-discussed topic. Barring specific types of signs, such as sandwich boards, in certain areas and banners in all areas of Lakeway was also discussed.

Kilgore said he wants to see the sign policy within Lakeway’s city code be amended to be more amenable to local business and more consistent in general.

Trent Chastain, owner of the restaurant Hops & Thyme, said his two main concerns with doing business in Lakeway involve city sign regulations and employee retention. He said there are so few employees to choose from, largely because entry-level employees who live on their own can’t afford to live in Lakeway.

“I’ve had 32 employees in the last year,” Chastain said. “I’m kind of digging from the same pool. I have a great core staff, but we’ve hired most of them from our now hiring sign.

Resident concerns

Another topic centered on workforce retention, an issue about which several business owners spoke.

Butler, a local Realtor running for a spot on Lakeway City Council in May, said she wants to see something done to attract more workers to the area.

“I have a lot of concerns that I think I share with a lot of people,” Butler said. “We can’t keep employees out here, and I think there are a lot of reasons for that. There are 'Help wanted' signs on too many businesses.”

Butler said housing options for younger, entry-level employees are few, and the city is geared more toward older residents who are more established financially.

David Sheehan has lived in Lakeway since 2011 and owns an insurance agency with his son. He said even though he insures people throughout Texas, Lake Travis is his main market.

Sheehan said it is important to advocate for paying employees a living wage and to support local businesses.

“I hate it when local businesses fail out here,” Sheehan said. “Part of the message of supporting local is to understand what it takes to be a successful business owner in Lakeway.”

Attendee Kate Evans, who owns a Subway sandwich shop in Lakeway and employs nine people, said the city could do more to bolster entry-level employment.

Because college and high school students comprise a healthy contingent of the local entry-level workforce, Evans said helping them develop individually could help retain staff. Mastrangelo suggested the idea of working with Lake Travis ISD to encourage students to enter the local workforce in exchange for school credit.