The Highland Lakes is hiring, but job seekers are in short supply, according to area business owners.
“We’re not seeing anything out there as far as applicants,” said Dustin Wing, who owns three Marble Falls businesses with his stepfather, John Page. “And it’s not just us. If you look around, there are ‘now hiring’ signs all over the place. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but it’s a problem almost every business is dealing with.”
As an economic indicator, this is usually good news. When the economy is in poor shape, jobs are scarce and the unemployment rate is high. A 4- to 5-percent unemployment rate indicates to experts that nearly everyone who wants a job has a job.
Based on the latest figures from April of this year, the current unemployment rate in Burnet County is 4.7 percent compared to the national rate of 6.1 percent. The rate is calculated monthly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and represents the percentage of the labor force that is jobless.
Locally, a 4.7 percent unemployment rate has meant not-so-good news for growing businesses having trouble finding workers. That’s certainly been true for Wing, who co-owns Wingman Brother’s Smoke House, Wingman Oil Change Center, and Wingman Car Wash, and fellow business owners Sylvia Hubbard of the Marble Falls Dairy Queen and Casey Blair of Blair’s Western Wear & Boutique in Marble Falls.
Hubbard’s humorous take on the situation recently went viral on local social media. Photos of the restaurant’s marquee popped up all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The sign read: “Savannah, you need to show up to work.” Savannah gave Hubbard permission to use her name to highlight the challenge business owners are facing. And she does show up for work, her boss said.
“It’s hard to find employees, so it’s kind of a joke,” Hubbard said about the sign. “We’re trying to get everyone’s attention, my employees included. It’s getting it out there that we’re all hiring for employees and employees need to take it a little more serious.”
“Yes, this year, we have been painfully shorthanded with employees and hardly anyone even applying,” she said.
The question they all have is where are potential applicants?
One possibility, Wing surmised, is that those currently drawing unemployment have been receiving an additional $300 a week through COVID-19 supplemental benefits. Many, including Gov. Greg Abbott, believe the extra benefits are keeping people home, which is why the governor decided the state of Texas will end its participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program as of June 26. This will not affect regular federal and state unemployment benefits, but the $300 weekly supplement will go away.
“We’ll see what that does,” said Wing, though he’s not convinced it will help all that much.
Workforce Solutions is holding a statewide online event for employers, Texans Return to Work Roundtable, from 10-11:30 a.m. Thursday, May 20. The event will focus on “best practices Texas employers are using to bring Texans back to work,” reads the Facebook event post. Pre-registration is required. Workforce Solutions is a community partnership providing recruitment, training, and child care assistance to local workers and businesses. Burnet and Llano counties are served by Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area.
Other factors at play include the lack of affordable housing in the area, especially for those in the service and hospitality industries.
“I think one of the biggest problems we see is (people) in service jobs have a difficult time finding a place to live,” Wing said. “Housing is a huge need, and it doesn’t seem to be a focus of our decision makers.”
Workforce Solutions pointed out in a recent study conducted in Central Texas that housing is too expensive in Burnet County for low- to middle-income workers.
High-quality, affordable child care was listed as another problem. Potential employees are off the job market because they have to stay home to care for children.
Other challenges facing Highland Lakes-area employers is the overall worker pool. According to the Workforce Solutions report, about half of the population in Burnet County is 55 or older. Workforce participation is at 58 percent.
Training is another issue with which Workforce Solutions hopes to help local businesses, especially when it comes to trades. The group has started training classes in the Highland Lakes for plumbing and electrical journeyman licenses and will add air conditioning and heating work in the near future.
Meanwhile, businesses are doing what they can to entice applicants, even increasing pay or giving hiring bonuses. Blair pointed out it’s almost become a competition among businesses to offer the best pay. Some have resorted to poaching staff.
Another way employers are dealing with the issue is to work all that much harder themselves.
Wing bounces back and forth among his three businesses, covering for employees at lunch and lending a hand when needed. It’s just the normal routine for now.
“We’re making it work,” he said. “Our employees have been great, and the community has been really patient. I think they understand what’s going on. I don’t know what’s on the other side of this pandemic and what’s going to happen, but if people want a job and want to work, (the opportunities) are there.”