Summit County businesses continue to face housing staffing issues
COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed in May, meaning the 6-foot physical distancing rule was officially removed along with all capacity restrictions. But the lingering pains of the pandemic remained even when those warrants were lifted. As companies moved away from these rules, they effectively entered a new phase of hardship where employees were hard to find. The problems seem to get worse over the months.
To get a sense of how serious these issues are for local businesses, Summit County and the Summit Prosperity Initiative – the economic development arm of the Summit Chamber of Commerce – are working together to set up an economic recovery dashboard for each quarter. The dashboard is based on a survey completed by business owners, in addition to county-specific unemployment figures, sales tax figures, job postings and more, Corry Mihm said, project manager for the Summit Prosperity Initiative.
According to the Q2 scorecard, around 32% of companies said they needed staff and found it difficult to fill positions. About 7% said they were under staffed by up to 25%, about 10% said they were 25-50% understaffed, and about 10% said they were understaffed by more than 50%.
The dashboard indicated that “staffing levels have worsened considerably” since the first quarter.
For most business owners, this is not a surprise, but rather a trend that most organizations are experiencing. Scott Ciraulo, manager of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore store in Silverthorne, said staffing issues at the store forced him to close shop for an entire week in October. Thereafter, the store was only opened three days a week for the following weeks.
The Economic Recovery Dashboard noted that this is not unusual. He said “most companies have reported having had to cut operations due to staffing issues” and “staff shortages range from 40 to 1,200 hours per week.”
Ciraulo said the store was now operating normally, but it was up to a staff member to reduce the hours again. He said he had around four part-time employees and the store generally needed eight to twelve employees to function properly. At the moment, however, Ciraulo said there was a lack of quality candidates.
âI either get applications with a lot of addiction issues or no applicants at all,â Ciraulo said. “The last two people I hired were the last two people who actually filled out an application, and they were good people with no hidden issues.”
Ciraulo said his organization was “lucky” as it is run by a non-profit organization and is usually able to recruit volunteers. But others are not so lucky. Lauri Beckwith Pohlman helps run Ein Prosit in Frisco with her husband and business owner Scott Pohlman. She recently announced that Prosit is hiring on the One Man’s Junk Summit County Facebook group in hopes of attracting more applicants.
âI placed ads on every board I can find on Facebook and maybe got two responses,â she said. âOne of them put up a moment to come and see us and totally collapsed, didn’t even reach out to say ‘I can’t do this. “”
Beckwith Pohlman said it is such an employee market today that it is difficult to find or even keep talent.
âPart of the struggle is due to the fact that so many other restaurants, and in the service industry in general, are offering rates so great that we are potentially losing people,â she said. “We have increased (the rates for) everyone over the past two weeks to try to stay competitive but, again, people can go elsewhere and potentially earn more.”
Right now the restaurant has around eight staff members – not counting Beckwith Pohlman or her husband – and they usually need around 12 to function properly.
Lee Higgins, manager of the Altitude Organic Cannabis store in Dillon, said his biggest problem was also the lack of candidates. The store is currently staffed at current seasonal levels, but he fears this will put a strain on its staff over the next two weeks when business picks up. He said his staff is down about 25% from what it normally is this time of year and that he plans to make three or four more hires before the end of the year. .
Higgins believes the lack of applicants correlates directly with the lack of affordable housing in the community. He even struggled to keep control of his current staff because of these challenges. He said a floor manager and a deputy manager both almost moved because they were struggling to find accommodation.
âI moved to Kremmling last year just to leave the county and continue working here because I couldn’t afford to live here, and I’m the store manager,â Higgins said.
He lived in Summit Cove and said the rooms there, which used to cost $ 800, now cost around $ 1,200 per month.
Not only does this impact its staffing levels, but Higgins believes this lack of housing is directly related to its sales as well. About 50% to 60% of his clientele are locals, and he said sales have declined due to the exodus of locals from the county.
The Economic Recovery Dashboard reported that about 71% of business owners believe there is a shortage of applicants and about 51% believe there is a shortage of housing for applicants. Around 34% believe that there is a skills gap among applicants, and 29% believe that individuals do not want to work because of unemployment benefits.
Regarding housing, the scoreboard indicated that demand for housing assistance “exploded” at the start of the pandemic and that demand continued to persist “reflecting pressure as housing costs increase and the lack of availability puts a strain on our local population “.
The Summit Prosperity Initiative just completed its survey for the third quarter, which will be used to create an economic recovery dashboard for the next phase of the year.