Local Businesses Feel Effects of Nationwide Worker Shortage

By JESSE WINTER
For The Leader/Times

AREA — For many Americans, the arrival of summer and the increase of vaccinations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic would usher in a return to normalcy. With the world beginning to open back up, many small business owners like Vincent Corso and his wife, Danielle Corso, of Westfield, thought the worst was behind them. The local owners and operators of Two Maids and a Mop, which offers commercial and residential cleaning throughout the greater Westfield area, the Corsos fought through and survived the pandemic — with their business and its employees deemed essential workers. But fast forward to summer 2021, and the couple and their business are fighting for survival. And it is not because of a lack of potential clients, but a shortage of employees needed to fill their ranks and meet the increased customer demand in a post-lockdown world.

“We got through the pandemic, we did not have issues with staffing, which you would think would be the issue,” noted Vincent Corso, speaking to The Westfield Leader and The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times. “It’s been the last four to five months. I’m getting very worried; this is how my wife, Danielle, and I support our family.”

The Corsos’ Two Maids and a Mop business is part of a franchise with a national presence. Mr. Corso noted a “surge in demand” for his business’ services, but he lacks the staff to meet it. For Mr. Corso, this is troubling, not only for his small business but for those whose well-being depends on his cleaning services, such as elderly and special-needs clients.

According to Mr. Corso, the next appointment they can offer prospective customers, given the staffing shortage, would be four to five weeks away, or at some point in August.

In the case of the Corsos, they have taken and continue to take steps to attract new employees by frequenting job fairs, increasing their online presence through platforms like Indeed and CareerBuilder, and most significantly, through increasing wages and worker benefits such as employer-sponsored health care. The biggest issue, however, is getting prospective workers to follow through with an interview. Many express interest, and are engaging up to the point of showing up to the interview, which most fail to attend, Mr. Corso noted.

“We not only live in Westfield, we serve the community in which we live,” remarked Mr. Corso, who has 12-year-old twins enrolled at Edison Intermediate School, a boy and a girl. “If things don’t improve within the next 30 days, I’m extremely worried about what’s going to happen. I can’t do it alone.”

The Corsos are not alone. In fact, the nation itself is in the grip of a national worker shortage as the economy emerges from the pandemic. The food and services industry, a hallmark of Westfield’s downtown business community, have been hit especially hard nationally, according to the Associated Press (AP).

According to an article in the AP, the National Restaurant Association has reported “the eating and drinking industry shed 2.5 million jobs in 2020. Federal data show nearly 1.4 million job openings in the restaurant and hotel sector in April [2021],” with the worker shortage affecting restaurants “across the U.S.”

Reasons cited for the shortage of workers include the difficulty in finding child care, retirement and continued federal unemployment benefits, and according to another story in the AP, the shrinking of the worker-age population in the United States.

“A healthy economic expansion has always depended on robust population growth to fuel consumer spending, justify business expansion and drive corporate earnings,” The Associated Press reported on July 3. “Without a sizable influx of new workers, growth could stagnate.”

Stakeholders in Westfield are not letting up the fight in the wake of serious challenges presented by a worker shortage.

According to Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Gene Jannotti, the chamber and the Downtown Westfield Corporation (DWC) are partnering to help local business owners find employees.

Recently, both the chamber and the DWC released a survey to members regarding a job fair, specifically probing where and when a job fair would be best suited for them. Also, Mr. Jannotti explained, both organizations would be compiling lists of businesses with job openings and publishing the lists online, “weekly, if not more frequently,” he said.

Speaking directly to The Times, Mr. Jannotti was quick to emphasize that the worker shortage is not impacting one business sector, like restaurants or bars, but the vast majority of businesses. It was a point he highlighted when speaking about supply shortages and the lack of truck drivers throughout the country who are the lifeblood of small business.

“This just isn’t a local issue,” explained Mr. Jannotti, “We’re suffering like the rest of the country.”

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