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EYE ON BUSINESS: Help wanted ... all the time

Staffing shortage continues year-round for local businesses

September 13, 2019
By ELIZABETH IZZO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Labor shortages continue to pervade local businesses here.

Storefronts along the Main Street and Saranac Avenue business districts are papered with help wanted signs, one after another in quick succession. Some signs look temporary, and others look permanently affixed.

Business owners say they're hiring, but people just aren't applying to fill those empty slots. For some, staffing challenges exist year-round, and the lack of staff has impacted the number of hours or days their businesses can stay open.

Article Photos

Help wanted sign at the Base Camp Cafe in Lake Placid
(News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

"Across our four restaurants, nobody wants to work," said Emily Brown, general manager for the Base Camp Cafe on Main Street. "We rely heavily on J-1 (student visa) workers."

The company Brown works for also owns three other popular local restaurants: Simply Gourmet, the 'dack Shack and Big Mountain Deli.

Brown said the Base Camp Cafe may have to pare down its hours, not because the restaurant isn't profitable, but because there simply aren't enough people to staff it full time. The business is currently looking for a breakfast cook and one other person, and company-wide, Brown estimated between five to 10 positions were open.

"We might have to close one day a week because we have to," she said.

The company continues to operate smoothly in part because there's a lot of what Brown called "cross-functional employees" who can be moved around among the restaurants when needed.

The AuSable Inn in Keene Valley closed its doors for four days this week in part because of the labor shortage there, according to owner Ellie Wadsworth.

"We survived this summer by having our older (40 to 60 years old), dedicated employees work overtime," she said. "I myself would work 80 to 90 hours a week. We are closed this week until Thursday to give all my dedicated employees four days off to rest up, take a break and get ready for the leaf peepers."

Wadsworth said the AuSable Inn has been short-staffed all summer. The business also recently pared down its operating hours in response.

"It was difficult to get anyone to work, particularly students," Wadsworth said. "Restaurant work is apparently too difficult. The high school/college students would rather work in a slow-paced environment, sitting at a desk on a computer or cash register.

"Seems like millennials don't want to work hard. There seems to be no work ethic anymore."

High school students throughout the Tri-Lakes did work this summer, whether it be at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, the Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf course in Lake Placid, the Pine Cone ice cream stand in Ray Brook or the Hotel Saranac, Goody Goody's toy store or the Blue Moon Cafe in Saranac Lake, as was reported in the Sept. 6 issue of the Lake Placid News.

"I like working day-to-day; it gives me something to do," said 15-year-old Tanner Foley, who worked at Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf in Lake Placid this summer. "Plus, I don't have to watch my siblings."

Pirate's Cove manager Scotty Marshall called Foley "a stellar employee; he is one of the best employees I've ever had. I'll leave the business alone with him because he's so good."

Foley told the News he was having a slow summer and wanted to do something different for a job. He ended up finding an opportunity to become more responsible and gain job experience.

"I have enjoyed doing this. It's taught me a lot, and I've learned a lot more about people and how to handle business," Foley said. "Normally I don't like to talk to strangers, but here I'm opening up."

Many high school students went back to class last week, many college students returned to school in August, and many J-1 visa workers will be leaving in the next few weeks - and not every business attracts these summer workers.

Owners and managers of local businesses have different guesses for why so many positions in the area are remaining unfilled. Brown said in Lake Placid she thinks the lack of affordable housing and long-term rentals is a contributing factor.


Labor landscape

Anthony Hayden, a Lake Placid-based labor market analyst for the state Department of Labor, said the record low number of people looking for jobs in the North Country region is a factor.

"What's happening in the North Country is that the size of the workforce is at a record low," he said. "Difficulty in finding workers is not unique to Lake Placid."

The unemployment rate in Essex County was 3.7% as of July, consistent with the national rate and the lowest it has been in the month of July since at least 1990, according to Hayden.

Among the state's 62 counties, Essex County ranks 14th in terms of its unemployment rate, second-lowest in the North Country region behind Warren County, which had an unemployment rate of 3.5% as of July. Altogether, though, the North Country region has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 4.6%, according to the Department of Labor.

The county's entire workforce was estimated at 18,100 people as of July, roughly 17,500 of which are already employed, according to Department of Labor statistics. The department lists 700 people as "unemployed" as of July. That number doesn't include those who are unemployed but aren't actively looking for work.

Lake Placid's estimated five-year labor participation rate - which measures the number of employed and unemployed people actively searching for a job and who are over the age of 16 against the total working-age population - was roughly 77.5% between 2013-2017, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. That's higher than the statewide labor participation rate in that same period, approximately 63.3%, and the nationwide rate, 63.4%.


Is help on the way?

Tim Robinson, president of the Lake Placid Business Association and manager of Terry Robards Wine & Spirits in Lake Placid, said he's not aware of any initiatives that specifically help local businesses find staff or a centralized job board for job postings. Most businesses, he said, find workers by posting help wanted signs and by word of mouth.

Overall, this part of the year seems to be a slow-down period for local businesses, according to Robinson. Although there are still plenty of help wanted signs and there continues to be high turnover at restaurants, the rush to staff up will be winding down as the winter months get closer.

"I'm sure everyone is still looking for help, but it's not the hustle and bustle season," Robinson said.

(Adirondack Daily Enterprise Staff Writer Aaron Cerbone contributed to this report.)



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