Labor shortage threatening Blowing Rock tourism-related businesses?

Labor shortage threatening Blowing Rock tourism-related businesses?
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By David Rogers. July 5, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC — A “hot” economy is a good thing — unless you are in the hospitality and tourism business and can’t hire what are usually part-time service employees.

Food servers, cooks, bartenders, housekeepers and the like — they are all critical to the tourism-related industry, but the symptoms of a short labor supply have been clearly evident this week when some restaurants remain closed or reduced their hours open because of staff shortages.

Perhaps some of the part-time labor shortfalls are seasonal with Appalachian State University being out of regular session for the summer. Then again, at least some local college students are back home for the summer from their various schools near and far.

During normal times, successful efforts to recruit employees might have targeted areas like Lenoir and Caldwell County, but that job market has been described as tight, too. In a recent conversation with business leaders in Caldwell County, Blowing Rock News learned that there are some 2,600 good-paying manufacturing jobs open among the businesses in our neighboring county to the south.

The Watauga County unemployment rate dropped to 3.3% in May, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis economic data.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’ economic data bank reports that May’s unemployment rate in Watauga County dropped to 3.3% in May, down from 4.0% in January 2018 and almost 9% in 2010.

In an interview with Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce executive Charles Hardin, the organization’s CEO confirmed to Blowing Rock News that he has heard the same message from several business owners.

“This isn’t the first time we have seen a tight labor market with these kinds of shortages,” Hardin noted. “The mid- to late- 1990s was very similar.”

In fact, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis data, the Watauga County unemployment rate fell to below 1% in 1999, so there is a very real possibility that Watauga’s tourism-based economy could see even more challenging labor shortages before conditions improve.

The problem is severe enough that several tourism-related businesses, according to Hardin, are exploring ways to ease the shortages.

A sampling of potential remedies that employers might be exploring, among others:

  • Raise wages to attract workers
  • Offer transportation or fuel subsidies to employees having to commute long distances
  • Develop a shared shuttle service to and from other, more populated markets, such as Caldwell County or Johnson City
  • Organize a carpool information site across several businesses

“One of the problems,” Hardin observed, “is we’re finding that many of the younger people in the generation following the so-called “Millenials” are not driving. A lot of college students are not even bringing cars to campus. If they need to get somewhere, they call on Uber or Lyft, or take public transportation. And these are the people most likely to work in part-time summer jobs in the hospitality industry.”


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