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Employers at a Western North Carolina Job Fair Report an Ongoing Labor Shortage

A western North Carolina job fair promoting employment opportunities with wages starting at $18 per hour revealed an ongoing need for local businesses to hire workers.

“This job fair is being offered due to outcry from local employers from all sectors who are begging for workers,” Barbara Darby, one of the job fair’s organizers, told The Epoch Times.

Darby, the regional business services coordinator for the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board (MAWDB), an employment center in Asheville, North Carolina, said the job fair consists of 70 companies from seven surrounding counties.

In partnership with the Asheville Area, Brevard/Transylvania, Henderson County, and Madison County Chamber of Commerce, the MAWDB hosted the “$18 per Hour and Beyond” job fair on Tuesday, Aug. 10 at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Fletcher, North Carolina.

“We are just trying to provide an opportunity for both the job seeker and the employer population in our area,” said Darby.

In North Carolina, the maximum one can draw for unemployment is $350 a week.

Enhanced federal benefits are $300 a week. Those benefits expire in September.

According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the end of June there were 10.1 million job openings in the country.

According to an Aug. 9 press release from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that number is a record amount of job openings.

In addition, the chamber reported that the 10.1 million job openings are 590,000 more than in May, which itself was a record, however, the growth of openings “is picking up.”

“Businesses have created 3.3 million openings since the beginning of 2021,” the chamber reported in the press release. “Openings continue to grow because job takers are simply not keeping up with openings. The quit rate was 2.7 in June, which is also historically elevated.”

In June there were 9.5 million unemployed workers, down from the peak in April 2020 when there were more than 23 million out of work, the chamber reported.

There are now 589,000 more job openings than there are unemployed workers, according to the chamber.

A New Experience for Veteran Business Owners

“I’ve been a businessman for 40 years, and I have never seen it this bad before,” Bruce O’Connell told The Epoch Times at the job fair.

Pisgah Inn
Bruce O’ Connell (R), owner at Pisgah Inn at “$18 per Hour and Beyond” job fair in Fletcher, North Carolina on Aug. 10, 2021. (Matt McGregor/EpochTimes)

O’Connell owns and operates Pisgah Inn, a restaurant and resort that sits at an elevation of 5,000 feet on Mt. Pisgah within the Pisgah National Forest off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“We can’t find anyone to work,” O’Connell said.

People fill out applications, get hired, then disappear, O’Connell explained.

“It’s been going on since the unemployment benefits increased and the free money giveaways started, and that correlates with the beginning of the pandemic, of course, but certainly people don’t have an incentive to come to work anymore, and I fear people are getting out of the habit of having to work,” O’Connell said.

With the federal and state government “giving extra money,” he said, potential hires apply, work for a brief time, then quit to get benefits again.

“The whole mindset of working seems to be disappearing in this country,” O’Connell said, adding that it’s not about pay rates, either.

“Look at what we are doing here,” O’Connell said. “This is an $18 and beyond concept, and nobody’s getting any action.”

O’Connell said the cause is “partly political,” adding that he doesn’t understand why anyone “would want to undermine the country like this.”

The economic climate has motivated O’Connell, a Republican, to run for Congress against Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, O’Connell said.

“I’m running as a businessman with a businessman’s approach, not a politician,” O’Connell said. “I’m not going to take a salary and I’m committing to no more than three terms of congress, then I’m out.”

A believer in small government, O’Connell said he also believes in “common sense and fiscal responsibility.”

“I’ve run a business for 40-plus years under contract with the federal government in a national park,” O’Connell said. “I’ve got experience not only with the business-side of things, but also in dealing with the National Park Service, which is a part of the Department of the Interior, so that makes me qualify, and I want to take this approach to Washington.”

Not Business as Usual

Scott Rickard, a production manager at Lassonde Pappas and Company, Inc., a juice manufacturing company in Hendersonville, North Carolina, was offering a $1,000 sign-on bonus at his company’s booth.

He told The Epoch Times that “in over 30 years of manufacturing,” he’s never seen a workforce situation like the current one.

“This is definitely not business as usual,” Rickard said. “As you can see, events like this don’t take place when employees are readily available and actively looking.”

As to its cause, Rickard speculated that there could be a variety of factors, from unemployment benefits to a reduction in childcare options, leaving one parent having to stay home.

Jen Grabo, a human resources director at Snow Creek Landscaping in Arden, North Carolina, said Snow Creek is offering a $400 sign-on bonus that would be paid out within the first 90 days of employment, along with a $550 referral bonus, as well as incentive programs, such as appreciation days consisting of cookouts and raffle giveaways “to help ease the stresses of being short-staffed.”

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, from across California to the east coast, and I haven’t seen anything like this before,” Grabo said. “I’ve seen it bad, but I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Grabo said the “running theory” of the workforce shortage is that it’s the result of the pandemic shutting down the economy, however, other factors could be that, with the time at home, people reconsidered what their purpose was, and made changes in their lives and careers.

“And that’s great, but hurtful to the economy,” Grabo said, adding that she thought the stimulus checks “and other payouts” have hurt the economy “as far as getting people back into the workforce.”

Legislation

There had been a bill in the North Carolina General Assembly that would have given people returning to work re-employment bonuses of $1,500 to workers who accepted jobs 30 days after the bill became law.

Workers who accepted jobs up to 60 days after it passed would have received $800.

The money would have been provided through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program if the U.S. Department of Labor were to approve it, but the bill went unsigned by Gov. Roy Cooper.

In a June press release, Republican N.C. Senator Chuck Edwards said that the restaurant and lodging industry has been “devastated” by the workforce shortage.

“But they are not alone,” Edwards said. “Every industry has reported to me they are direly concerned that they cannot hire people they need. Manufacturers are now sending jobs abroad, and we see prices on almost everything skyrocketing.”

Matt McGregor

Matt McGregor covers news from North and South Carolina for The Epoch Times.

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