Summit County businesses continue to struggle with staffing challenges related to housing |

Summit County businesses continue to struggle with staffing challenges related to housing

Since COVID-19 restrictions went away, businesses have difficulties maintaining adequate staffing levels

People enjoy a night out at Ein Prosit in Frisco on March 4. The business is one of many in Summit County experiencing labor challenges.
Liz Copan/For the Summit Daily News

COVID-19 restrictions were loosened in May, meaning the 6-foot physical distancing rule was officially removed along with all capacity restrictions. But lingering pains from the pandemic remained even as those mandates were lifted. As businesses moved away from these rules, they effectively entered into a new phase of hardship where employees were hard to come by. The problems seem to have grown worse as the months have passed.

To get a feel for just how bad these issues are for local businesses, Summit County and the Summit Prosperity Initiative — the economic development arm for the Summit Chamber of Commerce — collaborate to put together an economic recovery dashboard for each quarter. The dashboard relies on a survey filled out by business owners, in addition to unemployment numbers specific to the county, sales tax figures, job postings and more, said Corry Mihm, project manager for the Summit Prosperity Initiative.

According to the dashboard for the second quarter, about 32% of businesses reported needing staff members and that they are struggling to fill positions. About 7% reported they are understaffed by up to 25%, about 10% reported they are understaffed from 25% to 50%, and about 10% reported they are understaffed by more than 50%.

The dashboard stated that “staffing levels have gotten dramatically worse” since the first quarter.

For most business owners, this isn’t a surprise, but rather a trend that most organizations are experiencing. Scott Ciraulo, store manager for the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Silverthorne, said the store’s staffing challenges forced him to close up shop for a whole week in October. Afterward, the store was only open for three days a week the following few weeks.

The economic recovery dashboard noted that this isn’t unusual. It said that “most businesses reported having to cut operations due to staffing issues,” and that “staff shortages range from 40 to 1,200 hours per week.”

Ciraulo said the store is now operating like normal, but that he’s one staff member away from reducing hours again. He said he has about four part-time workers and usually the store needs eight to 12 staff members to function smoothly. Right now though, Ciraulo said there’s a lack of quality applicants.

“I’m either getting applications with a lot of substance abuse problems or no applicants at all,” Ciraulo said. “The last two people I hired were the last two people that actually filled out an application, and they were good people without any kind of hidden problems.”

Ciraulo said his organization is “lucky” since it’s run by a nonprofit and he’s usually able to staff up with volunteers. But others aren’t so lucky. Lauri Beckwith Pohlman helps run Ein Prosit in Frisco with her husband and owner of the business, Scott Pohlman. She recently posted that Prosit is hiring on the Facebook group One Man’s Junk Summit County in the hopes to garner more applicants.

“I’ve been placing ads all over every board that I can find on Facebook and I’ve maybe had two responses,” she said. “One set up a time to come see us and totally flaked, didn’t even reach out to say ‘I can’t make it.’”

Beckwith Pohlman said it’s such an employee’s market right now that it’s hard to find or even keep talent.

“Part of the struggle is because so many of the other restaurants, and in the service industry in general, are offering such good rates, we’re potentially losing people,” she said. “We’ve raised (rates for) everybody over the past two weeks to try to stay competitive but, again, people can go somewhere else and possibly make more.”

Right now, the restaurant has about eight staff members — not including Beckwith Pohlman or her husband — and they typically need about 12 to operate smoothly.

Lee Higgins, store manager of Altitude Organic Cannabis in Dillon, said his biggest issue is also a lack of applicants. The store is currently staffed to current seasonal levels, but he’s worried it’ll put a strain on his staff in the next week or two when business starts to pick up again. He said his staff is down about 25% of what it normally is around this time of year and he’s looking to make three to four more hires before the year’s end.

Higgins believes the lack of applicants is in direct correlation to the lack of affordable housing in the community. He’s even had trouble keeping a hold of his current staff because of these challenges. He said a floor manager and assistant manager both nearly had to move because they had trouble finding housing.

“I moved to Kremmling last year just to get out of the county and still work here because I couldn’t afford to live here, and I’m the store manager,” Higgins said.

He used to live in Summit Cove and said the rooms there that used to be $800 are now going for around $1,200 per month.

Not only is it impacting his staffing levels, but Higgins thinks this lack of housing is also directly related to his sales. About 50% to 60% of his clientele are locals, and he said sales have been down due to the exodus of locals moving out of the county.

The economic recovery dashboard reported that about 71% of business owners believe there is a lack of applicants and about 51% believe there is a lack of housing for applicants. About 34% believe there is a lack of skills among applicants, and 29% believe that individuals are unwilling to work due to unemployment benefits.

As for housing, the dashboard stated that demand for housing assistance “exploded” during the onset of the pandemic and the demand has continued to persist “reflecting the pressure that increasing housing costs and lack of availability places on our local population.”

The Summit Prosperity Initiative just wrapped up its survey for the third quarter, which will be used to create an economic recovery dashboard for the next phase of the year.

Summit County and the Summit Prosperity Initiative, the economic development arm of the Summit Chamber of Commerce, collaborate to put together an economic recovery dashboard for each quarter. Here are some insights for second quarter.
Taylor Sienkiewicz/Summit Daily News

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