Every business and industry in Branch County continuously seems to be looking for employees. According to Lisa Miller, director of the Branch County Economic Growth Alliance, the situation is not new.
"We had not enough employees back before Clemens came online," she said of the county's largest employer with over 1,200 employees. The giant pork processing facility harvests more than 10,000 hogs a day.
Clemens recruits continuously in southwest Michigan. Employees are recruited nationwide to work on the production lines carving up the carcasses and processing them into the Hatfield brand of pork products. Work demands produce high production staff turnover.
Real Allow, another long-time employer, with a recycling plant and a foundry to process molten metal for plants in the region, is now expanding and needs more employees.
Walmart Distribution has turned to television ads in the Kalamazoo market to find warehouse staff and truck drivers to distribute products to the region's Walmart stores.
Every store, every restaurant, every type of business posts signs for open jobs. Often jobs notices exceed product and service advertisements.
"We have certain percentages of jobs that have more vacancies. Retail is a very high vacancy rate. You can attribute that to long hours. You can attribute it to COVID. You can attribute it to pay," Miller said.
The vacancies are more than that.
"But we also have a nursing shortage, which are really good-paying positions," the director said. That shortage drove hospitals to advertise for traveling nurses. Advertised pay rates are three times or more above local pay scales.
Starting pay in local industry increased after the initial COVID-19 lockdown from below $20 an hour to well over that as the need for production staff went unmet.
In the critical area of emergency services, LifeCare ambulance raised pay. With 30% staff vacancies, it now pays to train interested people to become emergency medical technicians and paramedics.
Police agencies pay to train those who want to go into law enforcement to join their ranks. Still, shortages exist.
Others are turning toward automation. Greenhouse grower Mastronardi leads a nationwide effort to grow produce year-round indoors, with automation replacing routine labor.
Automation is evident in chain stores. Most now use self-scanners for checkout to replace cashiers in short supply.
The labor shortage "it's a very complicated, multifaceted issue," Miller stated. "It's housing; it's daycare, it's retiring baby boomers."
"The baby boomers are retiring in record numbers. We're the largest group of babies that were born." At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many from the post-World War II era nearing retirement decided it was time to retire.
"Everybody likes to be mad at the millennials" for not filling the jobs, but there are not as many of them, Miller said. "So it's very, very complicated. If you put it up on a whiteboard, you can see all the different aspects of why we have this situation."
Branch County employers are not the only ones frustrated.
"We aren't the only ones that are dealing with this. It's happening all over the state, all over the country," the BCEGA director said.
"And so we work with companies. We help them to try and find employees. And we continue to do what we do and deal with it as it comes. But again, it's not unique to Coldwater. It's not unique to the region; it's all over the place." Miller said.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Reporter: News, business