Local businesses have a critical need for more staff

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- A panel of local business owners met to discuss the labor shortage they’re now facing as a result of the pandemic and just how much it’s impacting their ability to operate.

From manufacturing, to restaurants, to retail, all industries are struggling with understaffing in some sort of way and in Southwest Michigan, it’s brought them to a critical point in keeping their business open.

There are 2,000 job openings right now between Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties, according to Kinexus Group, which hosted Thursday's panel.

Lana’s Boutique in St. Joseph is preparing for tourist season, but fears they won’t have enough staff to meet the demand

“By now, I would have my summer crew ready to go for Memorial weekend but I’m still trying to find people to even apply,” said manager Mazi Heppler.

While Soulard’s in Coloma is concerned about the toll it could take on their current staff.

“They’re getting burnt out and we’re not even in business season, this has been what we consider slow season, they can’t realistically work all of the hours we would need these workers for,” said owner Taylor Prestige.

The biggest issue, they said, is trying to compete with unemployment benefits aimed at providing stability to many who are struggling financially from the pandemic fallout.

“I think people have gotten used to not going to work and still getting by and until that’s a struggle for them, it’s not going to be an issue for them,” said Heppler.

Some businesses are now even offering incentives to work.

But, that’s not an option for many of these mom-and-pop shops struggling financially themselves.

“There was a place that offered $50 just to interview and that’s just not realistic for my business,” said Prestige. The restaurant industry has been shut down for a year, so we’re already hurting and now dipping further into our pockets to pay people just to sit in for an interview.”

All businesses in Thursday's panel are still hiring, they were: Lana's Boutique, the Inn at Harbor Shores, Cameron's Restaurant, Soulard's and Gaishin Manufacturing. 

Kinexus is also available to help anyone looking for work.

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