Last Friday around noon, I pulled into the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant in Altoona and was surprised to see that I was the only car in line. As I pulled-up to place my order, I noticed a sign on the window announcing that the restaurant was closed due to “unavoidable circumstances.” Those circumstances, I later learned, were due to insufficient staffing.
I’ve shared that experience with a number of people in the local hospitality industry and they were amazed. Not amazed that a business had closed for lack of employees. Amazed that I was apparently out-of-the-loop on what has gradually been taking place, not just in hospitality, but throughout the business community.
I felt like Rip Van Winkle. While I was continuing to fight the battle to allow more businesses to reopen at full customer capacity, the other shoe was preparing to drop.
“We waited so long to get back to operating at close to normal levels,” a restaurant owner told me, “and now we’ve got no one to work.” Many restaurants have cut hours to more effectively utilize the employees they have. It is also not uncommon to be greeted at the front door of a hospitality business by a sign requesting patience within the realm of customer service.
So who’s to blame for all this? You can point your finger in a number of directions. The fact that the Unemployment Compensation system has made it more profitable to stay at home than to work gets most of the invective. In reality though, we’re past the point of looking for scapegoats. It’s time to look for solutions.
The Chamber’s Public Policy Committee will be taking the lead in creating a strategy to ascertain just how many businesses are struggling, their short-term staffing needs and other challenges that are making life difficult. From the staffing standpoint, it’s important to remember that workforce issues carried high importance prior to the pandemic. The Chamber will be announcing a new initiative within a few weeks to begin addressing long-term approaches on a regional scale.
The Blair County business community holds the key to our future growth and our quality of life. Our workforce is the heart and soul of that community. We’ve got to stay alert (and awake!) to confront the obstacles ahead.
(Joe Hurd is President/CEO of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce)