Jobs everywhere but few workers to fill them

Published 6:52 pm Friday, April 16, 2021

NATCHEZ — Business is booming at The Donut  Shop.

Owner Jason Tyson said his business doubled, then tripled during the year of COVID.

“We would normally make six or seven doughs — enough for 30 dozen doughnuts — during the day. Instead, on normal days now we are making eight or nine doughs, and 10 to 12 doughs on the weekend, and still running out of product,” Tyson said. “Our problem is, we don’t have the employees to keep up.”

In fact, Tyson has had to reduce the number of hours his store is open because he has been unable to find employees to come work for him.

“I have never had to look for employees. Normally, if I post a job opening, within a couple of hours that same day, my phone is ringing off the hook. We would normally have tons of applications just pouring in. Or, I will run into someone random in a store, and they will ask if I’m hiring,” he said. “I posted on Facebook more than a week ago and have only had six applications filled out. When I posted a job this time last year, I had 89 of them.”

A number of business owners and managers in the Natchez area are having similar experiences.

“I’ve never had this problem before. I pay my employees well and I take care of them. I have three employees and one of them has been here almost 19 years,” he said.

Tyson blames the lack of available applicants on the increased unemployment and stimulus checks from the federal government to help combat the effects of the COVID pandemic.

“It’s all this free money coming in. I have family members who didn’t even have a job before the pandemic started, who are now sitting home and getting $400 a week. People are not working because they are getting paid to sit at home,” he said. “It’s a sign of the times. Everyone wants something but they don’t want to have to work for it.”

Competing economic pressures

Chandler Russ, executive director of Natchez Inc., said the lack of employees for available jobs right now is the result of several issues.

“We have two things going on. One is, you have an economy locally that is doing very well, despite all of the pressures from the pandemic and everything else that’s been on it. We have new construction going on and new businesses opening right now,” Russ said. “Then you have the pandemic side of things where you have the unemployment benefits that are basically keeping a lot of people, especially in the service sector, at home. We have a resurgence in that service sector, and lots of potential employees are opting to stay home right now. That’s really what’s going on.”

Russ said more than 500 available jobs are posted at the Natchez WINS Jobs Center.

“Those jobs range from dishwasher to helicopter pilot. They are all over the board. And that’s just the jobs people have chosen to list with the WINS Jobs Center. There are probably a couple hundred additional jobs available in the area, so I would guess we have in the range of 700 available jobs here,” he said.

“There are good jobs available. Enerfab, which is under the same ownership as Great River Industries and handles the manufacturing side of the business at the port, is looking for a project manager with a salary of around $65,000 a year and all benefits and insurance. Then, if you look across the river, Syrah (Resources) is looking for lab technicians. There are a host of jobs out there like that,” Russ said.

Labor force participation is low

Another complicating factor in Natchez and Adams County is the lack of available workforce.

“Before the pandemic, we were focused on and wanted to improve the labor participation rate for the region, which is well below the national average right. Of those people here who can participate in the labor force, ages 18 to 62, only 46 to 48 percent are willing to work. Our goal was to get that number to 55 percent. The national average is 63 percent,” he said.

The number of willing participants in the labor force began its decline back in the days after International Paper and other of the larger employers here closed up shop.

“In the last few years, we are not having as much a jobs problem as we are having a workforce issue. We have got to encourage the labor force to go back to work sooner or later. We have got to get more people that are able to work into those jobs. We need to get those people who are able to work retrained or matched to jobs that match their training,” Russ said. “It’s a huge issue and one we can solve. I think you will see when the federal unemployment benefits from the CARES Act end, we will see the service sector settle back in and those people who are electing to stay home right now will go back to work.”