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Staffing a struggle for some businesses

While the immediate post-pandemic trend of “help wanted” signs in the front window of seemingly every business in town has eased, more than a third of Boulder City business owners report that they continue to have issues attracting and retaining staff, especially for entry-level positions.

The Boulder City Chamber of Commerce recently polled its members to find out if the much-publicized worker shortage issues that continue to plague businesses —especially restaurants and bars — “over the hill” was a top-of-mind issue for local businesses.

The results of the survey were mixed. While the majority of businesses reported no issues filling open positions, a substantial minority —about 35% —reported that workers were still scarce.

“Based on the responses from the survey, 65% of Boulder City businesses are successfully finding and retaining employees at this time. This is an uptick from the months immediately following Covid shutdown protocols,” said Chamber CEO Jill Lagan.

She also noted that one specific recent development may have influenced those numbers.

“We know that several parents have stated that since the Little Lambs Childcare and Preschool has opened, it gives them more ability to get back to work,” she said.

According to the National Restaurant Association, employment in that market remains at nearly 4% below pre-pandemic levels while pent-up demand for experiences encompassing everything from travel to events to dining out means that most businesses actually need more employees than they did pre-pandemic. Nationally, 80% of operators say they are having a hard time filling open positions with most of those saying they can’t hire enough staff to meet customer demands.

According the tech company Open Table, during the lockdowns associated with Covid, many workers in the food and hospitality industries were able to take stock and came to the realization that the fast-paced and often stressful jobs they had been doing were not their only options. Many found work in other fields and some left the workforce entirely in what has been termed by some as the Great Resignation.

While the survey conducted by the chamber did not break out respondents by the type of business, a large number of restaurants and bars are members of the organization and a quick walking trip around the downtown area of Boulder City will still reveal a significant number of help wanted signs in many of the hospitality businesses that serve both locals and the tourists who flock to the area.

The survey results were remarkably consistent. The same number of business owners who reported issues finding employees said that, while they see an increasing number of applicants since Covid-related financial benefits have run out, there remains a large disconnect between the hourly rates historically paid for the jobs they offer and the expectations of job seekers.

This phenomenon has been felt by all kinds of businesses and even the city itself. At a recent City Council meeting, Council member Cokie Booth expressed concern with the rates the city could pay for part-time workers given that the chain restaurants that are found up and down Boulder City Parkway were often paying substantially more. As a result, the minimum per hour rate for part-time workers employed by the city was raised by nearly 20% which still puts the rate about 25% below market.

Another common frustration expressed by survey respondents was the quality and commitment of the people who are applying.

“The issue,” one wrote, “is finding competent individuals that have common sense and work history. I have lots of applicants, but most are not qualified for the basic job requirements. The good job applicants are not applying due to low wages or they are content not working.”

Others noted that they have already raised starting wages for all positions in their business. The frustration among some is palatable.

“Our experience is that people put in applications and most not show for interviews,” one business owner reported. “If they do show up for interviews and are hired, most do not show for orientation and or their first day of work. It is incredibly frustrating and hard. We have found that people are demanding $25 for entry-level positions.”

Lagan acknowledged that Boulder City businesses may not be immune to national trends.

“Thirty-five percent of the businesses are not seeing any relief yet and are struggling to find qualified applicants and applicants that will follow through with an interview,” she said. “There are so many factors that contribute to this, but it is interesting to hear from some businesses that more applicants have been contacting them since the pandemic unemployment assistance programs have run out.”

Contact reporter Bill Evans at wevans@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401.

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