WASHINGTON, D.C. | A small business owner from the tiny town of Cushing, Iowa, found himself shaking hands with President Trump in the Oval Office Wednesday.
John Anfinson was one of seven U.S. business owners invited to the White House to meet Trump, who thanked them for sharing with their employees some of the savings from the tax cut bill championed by the Republican president and the GOP-led Congress.
Of the seven companies honored by Trump, Anfinson's business, Anfinson Farm Supply, was easily the smallest.
Within days of the bill’s passage in December, Anfinson gave all seven full-time employees a $1,000 bonus, plus a 5 percent pay raise.
“That way the money flows back into the community,” Anfinson told The Journal after the ceremony.
The independent farm supply store also employs some part-time workers during the busy spring season. The owner said he is also considering giving them bonuses as well "because it would be fair."
His recent generosity isn't something his employees took for granted.
“I’m very grateful for the bonus and raise I received,” said Shawn Joy, who has worked as an applicator/operator at the business for about five years.
The opportunity to meet with Trump was pretty random, Anfinson said. He registered his business on the Americans for Tax Reform website, along with many other businesses that have benefited from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Shortly after he registered, Anfinson said a writer from the website reached out to him to do an interview for an article that was published Jan. 9.
Things were quiet again until last week when Anfinson received a call from Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. He said he thinks Ernst was feeling him out because the next day he received a call from a White House staffer. After a short interview, Anfinson said he was invited to fly out to Washington.
Anfinson said he spent most of Wednesday in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building before being taken to the White House, where they hung out in the bowling alley before the Oval Office meeting.
Admittedly, Anfinson said he was nervous about meeting Trump, but he said the president did a great job of putting everyone at ease and was charismatic.
“He walked in the room and about 30 seconds later he had us laughing,” Anfinson recalled.
As they took group and individual photos with Trump, Anfinson said he was impressed that the president was able to remember everyone's name and little tidbits about them.
Anfinson was joined at the Oval Office ceremony by China Edwards of Bank Midwest, Independence, Missouri; William Harmon of Total System Services, Muscogee County, Georgia; Jessica Melendez of Jergens Inc., Cleveland; Michael Porter of Aflac, Columbus, Georgia, Patrick Sobers of National Band Holdings Corp., Arapahoe County, Colorado; and Sue Wagner of Bank of Colorado, Fort Collins, Colorado.
Trump called on them one by one. When it came Anfinson's turn to speak, he introduced himself and noted, "we’re a very small business compared to the rest of the people in the room, I’m sure. I have seven employees."
Immediately after the tax bill passed, Anfinson said he decided to give bonuses and pay raises to his employees.
"... I felt like somebody — a kid who just got the new keys to the car," he told the audience, according to a White House transcript of the meeting. "You know, “Oh, we got to do something with this, you know, and make the best of it and go ahead with it.' So, you know, it just seemed like the thing to do right away."
More than 275 U.S. companies have announced bonuses, raises, expanded benefits, or new jobs as a result of the tax bill, according to the White House.
Anfinson said he also plans to reinvest some of the tax savings in his business, which has been in his family for 100 years. The Cushing company was started by Anfinson’s maternal grandfather as a general store that sold milk, produce, clothes and other items for farmers.
For the last 46 years, after taking over from his father, Anfinson has run the place. He has no plans of retiring anytime soon.
Cushing Mayor Don Joy Jr., who is also Shawn Joy's father, said he's known Anfinson his entire life and is glad to see him in the national spotlight.
"He runs a really nice operation in Cushing," Joy Jr. said. "He pays his help excellent — just a great guy to work for. ... A good employer to have in town."
While news typically travels fast in small towns, most Cushing residents weren't even aware that Anfinson was heading to the White House until the last minute, Joy Jr. said.
Despite the initial hush-hush nature of the visit, the mayor noted this is something the entire community can hang its hat on.
"Quite an honor for a town of 240 people," he said.