Archive for Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Unemployment rate adversely affects business in Tonganoxie

October 11, 2000

Finding employees is no short order.

"It's horrible," said Daniel Hipsher, owner of Daniel's Bar-B-Que. "Every business owner I talk to it's the same thing over and over. It doesn't matter if they're doing food, selling hardware or if it's an excavating company needing laborers. Everybody's hurting."

Hipsher, who established his business in Tonganoxie three years ago, said some of his employees who had worked for him in Edwardsville continued working for him when he moved here.

They're the ones doing the hard work, Hipsher said.

"The jobs I'm trying to hire for are simple like making sandwiches, standing by the cash register and taking orders, washing dishes," Hipsher said.

In his estimation, part of the problem is competition.

"It's because you can go to Lawrence and work at McDonald's and start out at $7 an hour," Hipsher said.

In a small town, that's hard to top, he said.

"Especially if you're in the food business," Hipsher said. "You just can't compete."

Traditionally, the food-service industry has faced difficulty in attracting workers. And the nationwide low unemployment rate fuels that problem.

Neil Bitler closed his Tonganoxie barbecue business because of personnel problems.

"The people who want to work already have a job," he said. "so the only thing that's left is somebody who doesn't want to work or who's looking for a quick shot in the arm or the kids. The kids generally don't have any discipline. They don't want to work. We had some who were very, very dependable. But the rest of them if there was a party, the heck with you."

Bitler believes that part of the problem is the profession itself.

"There aren't very many people out there who say, 'I want to be a cook, I want to be a waitress,'" he said. "And that's a shame because waitresses make darned good money $10 to $15 an hour easily."

Paul Davis, who owns the Fourth Street Cafechoes Bitler's lament.

"I really haven't had much problem with the teen-agers, but summer's over, and I'm somewhat desperate for help," he said. '' I do find a lot of problems getting somebody interested in doing this kind of work. I've got some good waitresses. When I do get some good employees, some will stay for years and years."

In the Tonganoxie school district, attracting classified employees, such as food service workers and custodians, can be a challenge.

"We've had quite a turnover, particularly in custodians," said Richard Erickson, superintendent. "And we've had some turnover in food service. It's difficult to recruit and keep custodial employees. The pay scale is not as competitive as some of the other opportunities that people have in this area. Being so close to Kansas City, there are a lot of professional opportunities for people right now, particularly with the low employment rate."

But Erickson hopes to take steps to ease the problem.

"Our strategy right now is to try to raise our starting base salary in our classified employee ranks, as we do with our certified employees," he said. "That needs to be an area of continued concentration."

Recruitment of certified teachers hasn't been quite so difficult.

"We haven't had large numbers of certified employees apply for positions, but I can't say there's been a shortage," Erickson said. "I've been very pleased with the talented applicant pool that we've had."

While proximity to the Kansas City metropolitan area works against the district when seeking classified staff, it appears to help when seeking certified staff. Many of the district's teachers either live in the metro area or their spouses do.

"We're thankful that it works in a positive way with at

At Tonganoxie Nursing Center, executive director Mike Bartholomees said that although there is adequate staffing at the nursing home, he is always looking for more help.

"We're not full-staffed," Bartholomees said. "But we are fully staffed."

This means, he said, that the center is above the minimum staffing requirements for the state of Kansas, but that the center is below where he would like it to be.

"We're constantly advertising for help," Bartholomees said. "Not necessarily because we're short or long, but we oftentimes employ people who, within the first 90 days of hiring, may not prove to be up to the quality level of what we want. Therefore, we continue advertising to hire new staff."

The center employs about 74 people and Bartholomees would like to see that number increase to 80.

But he's not holding his breath.

"I would say that would probably be kind of difficult," he said. "In this area we have probably somewhat tapped out the availability. There's only so many people who want to go into this industry and if they want to, they probably already work here."

As an incentive to draw people in from outside the immediate area, Tonganoxie Nursing Center offers a travel allowance.

"That helps," Bartholomees said. "There have been several who have applied and taken the position because of that extra incentive."

One of Tonganoxie's largest employers First State Bank and Trust provides jobs for about 65 full- and part-time people locally. Another 10 people are employed in Basehor, and six others in Lawrence.

"We've been very lucky," said Kathy Boyle, human resources director. "We've been able to fill most of our positions very quickly."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.