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Local businesses facing shortage of applicants for jobs

As fear over the COVID-19 pandemic begins subsiding, and as the number of cases dwindle, many businesses are loosening restrictions and reopening their doors to customers.

Local restaurants are beginning to see more diners inside, and casinos in some areas are beginning to see more people on the gaming floor as masks and other restrictions are lifted.

One thing businesses are not seeing is a rush of applicants for job vacancies that are appearing as they re-open.

“What we’re seeing a lot is on the service businesses, the casinos; they all are trying to hire and having a hard time,” said Pablo Diaz, Vicksburg Warren Economic Development Partnership president and CEO. “We’re concentrating on the tourism service and restaurant industries where we are seeing the most input.”

Diaz believes a number of different issues are the reason for the lack of job applicants. One reason, he said, is the continued federal stimulus money and extended unemployment benefits.

“The governor took action a week ago (to stop extended unemployment benefits) and we think that is going to stop and going to help in some way,” he said.

Many of the businesses, however, need help now.

“We’ve really been trying for most of the last year keeping things moving with high school students who are virtual or homeschooled and we’ve got a lot of those folks graduating soon, so we’re trying to fill right around 20 positions, “ said Nick Jones, owner/operator of Chick-fil-A. “We’re really not able to.”

“This is the longest we’ve had a shortage of adults in an applicant pool,” he said. “I’m probably needing 10 adults college-age or older to work daytime, lunchtime evening time — full-time positions.”

Jones said Chick-fil-A prides itself on being a great work environment for high school students.

“We have some of the best and brightest high school students in Vicksburg working for us but they’re going to their colleges, so it’s a challenge right now.”

Mike Roach, owner and operator of several McDonald’s restaurants in the area is also suffering from labor shortages.

He said many employers are being forced to increase starting wages to attract workers.

“We’re even raising our prices because we know… things have been on this path for so long,” Roach said. “We can’t afford to pay people $15 an hour right off the bat, by the way. But we raised it up to $10 or $11 for minimum wage.

“Believe it or not, I have managers, supervisors who make $60,000 or $70,000 a year. That’s including a company car, insurance and everything else. It’s not just some mom and pop, let me sell you a hamburger for a couple dollars operation.”

Jennifer Curro, Casino Vicksburg marketing director, called the employment situation “a double-edged sword.”

“Business has been really driven but we are struggling, trying to retain employees,” she said. “We are doing job fairs throughout this month, trying to hire and get employees like everyone else.”

The jobs needed most at the casino, Curro said, are dealers and security. The casino is also looking for front desk workers at the hotel and a finance director. “Pretty much all positions are open right now,” she said, adding the casino is holding a job fair Friday from 10 a.m. to noon “and if we have someone come in and they’re really good we’re going to put them in the best position possible.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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