Bradenton area businesses of all kinds are dealing with a worker shortage that in some cases affects delivery of goods and services, as well as business hours.

The root cause is the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath as government struggles to curb the spread of the disease and restart the economy.

It’s been a tough time, particularly for the area’s tourism and hospitality sectors, which saw their doors ordered shut early in the pandemic, followed by gradual reopening.

For several weeks, John Horne, owner of four Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants, paid his staff of 335 full pay during the temporary shutdown early in the pandemic.

“Every industry right now is having difficulty. My vendors can’t get drivers, or warehouse pickers and loaders. We can’t get deliveries and our garbage wasn’t picked up at one of our restaurants for five days. The school district is having trouble getting school bus drivers and is paying more than $15 a hour,” Horne said.

At his restaurants, Horne is operating with 83 fewer people than before the pandemic. It’s not because he wants to, but because he can’t find enough staff.

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4/27/2021–Kassi Sands delivers meals at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar Restaurant, 1525 51st Ave. E., Ellenton. Restaurant owner John Horne says his staff is working hard, but he has had difficulty recruiting more associates. James A. Jones Jr. [email protected]

“My staff has been working their keisters off. No one has been applying. Now with all the vaccines, anyone who wants a vaccination can have one. I am afraid it is easier to stay home and collect unemployment. The rate the state and the feds are paying right now is averaging about $15 an hour. When you’re competing with those kind of wages, it’s going to be harder and harder,” Horne said.

Marc Brown, president of 23 Restaurant Services, said his company is preparing to open a 300-seat Ford’s Garage restaurant at 295 N. Cattlemen Road in the University Town Center district.

Typically, a Ford’s Garage has a staff of about 120 to 130, but after weeks of recruiting, the new restaurant has about half that, Brown said.

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4/27/2021–021–Restaurant owner John Horne visits with guests at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar Restaurant, 1525 51st Ave. E., Ellenton. Horne says he has had difficulty recruiting more associates to spread the workload at his restaurants. James A. Jones Jr. [email protected]

The goal is to begin training in about 10 days, Brown said.

With so much stimulus money available, it makes recruiting and retention challenging, Brown said.

Jacki Dezelski, president and CEO of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, frequently hears about the challenges of staffing.

“We are hearing from Chamber member employers that hiring is tough right now and certain industries have been hit harder than others. Our unemployment rate is back down to a low level which means the talent pipeline has tightened. Statistics also tell us that a noticeable number of Floridians have left the workforce completely during the past year. The difficulty in finding employees is having a negative impact on businesses’ ability to grow and adapt — and even stay fully open, in some cases,” Dezelski said.

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4/27/2021–Hiring signs are a common sight in Bradenton and a reflection of the difficulty employers are having recruiting staff. James A. Jones Jr. [email protected]

“The Chamber’s www.JobFocus.com website has more than 100 open positions listed. These are jobs in the Manatee-Sarasota region. Our goal is for this tool to serve as a hyper-local job site that connects our local businesses to job seekers ready to go to work. Posting and searching on this site is completely free for everyone,” she said.

Workforce development related priorities are part of the Chamber’s 2021 legislative agenda. As the Florida legislative session comes to a close in just a few days, the Chamber is watching a number of bills that support higher education, skills training and workforce resources, she said.

Jen Zak, communications director for CareerSource Suncoast, says that employers in the hospitality sector are most affected by the staffing challenge.

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4/27/2021–Hiring signs are a common sight in Bradenton and a reflection of the difficulty employers are having recruiting staff. James A. Jones Jr. [email protected]

“We’re currently experiencing fewer clients reaching out for employment assistance, but anticipate our client visits will rebound in the next couple of months once state waivers are lifted and more people are vaccinated,” Zak said.

“We’re prepared and excited for a return back to normal. Until then, we’ll continue reaching out to clients communicating the many career opportunities available in our community and working diligently to help our employers get the talent they need to succeed,” Zak said.

James A. Jones Jr. covers business news for the Bradenton Herald. Drafted into the Army in 1966, he served in the Vietnam War as a Signal officer. He is the author of “Oh, Darling!” Choices and Struggle in the Age of Sputnik, the Vietnam War and the New Millennium.”
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