Businesses around Emporia are experiencing a rash of “help wanted” signs in their windows, according to Emporia Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Susan Rathke.
“You can drive down any of our main thoroughfares and see, ‘now hiring,’ ‘help needed,’ ‘help wanted, all shifts,’ that kind of thing,” she said Monday after a joint meeting of the CVAB and Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce.
The labor shortage is nothing new to Emporia and it seems, she said, to hit the hospitality field especially hard.
Rathke said it seems hotels are often short on help, along with restaurants and retail shops.
Every industry, according to President and CEO of the Chamber Jeanine McKenna, is suffering from the labor shortage — from small, family-owned businesses to factories.
She said this problem isn’t unique to Emporia.
“It’s a nationwide problem,” she said.
According to McKenna, baby boomers are retiring faster than millennials and “Generation Z” can replace them.
“There’s a gap,” she said. “We just don’t have the workers coming up in the workforce, and so, we’re trying to take a look at different, unique ways to promote what is available here in the community.”
Some of the ways she said officials are looking into dealing with the problem is by educating people in town — especially high school students — as to the variety of careers available to them in Emporia, what skills are needed in these careers and what they need to do to gain those skills.
“Education is probably one of the biggest things that we’re looking at doing,” McKenna said.
CVAB board member and general manager of La Quinta and Quality Inn Jay Patel said part of the solution to this problem is finding a way to keep students in town after they’ve gained their post-secondary degrees.
He said hotels are often short of workers, experiencing high turnover all around, throughout the year. His hotels have been short-staffed, he said, since the middle of January.
“It’s constantly a revolving door,” Patel said.
He said he believes this happens not only in hotels, but in businesses all around Emporia.
“Unemployment is down, people are already working multiple jobs,” Patel said. “I think there’s just a shortage of labor right now.”
With many visitors coming to Emporia and with all kinds of events planned for this summer, Rathke said the shortage could be a problem.
“I think it hurts,” she said. “We just need all the help we can get.”
Rathke believes students looking for summer work will help alleviate the shortage.
“Hopefully it’ll pan out and some of those empty spots will get filled,” she said.
Summer in Emporia will be filled with sporting events, concerts and people traveling.
This Thursday and Friday, state baseball and softball tournaments will take place, she said, and the Dirty Kanza is June 1 - 3, in addition to regular sports that occur throughout the summer months.
“It’s just a busy time,” Rathke said. “There’s a lot of class reunions, a lot of family reunions, business travelers — our location is prime, being on the I-35. The numbers say 6 million travelers come past Emporia every year.”