2015-09-10 / Front Page

Leelanau lacked help over summer

Are unfilled jobs the ‘new reality?’
By Jay Bushen Of The Enterprise staff

Reinforcements never arrived.

The tried and true method of offering higher wages and cash bonuses didn’t go as planned for an overwhelming number of county businesses this summer, and the tight labor market has taken its toll on business owners.

“About this time of the year people are just tired,” said Sally Guzowski, president of the Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve got to get through another month and a half yet because we’ll stay pretty busy through the color season in the fall, but I know people are getting very weary.”

Guzowski said of a number of businesses in Lake Leelanau and Leland had a hard time finding enough workers this summer. The dilemma led to long work weeks and a few exhausted entrepreneurs.

The lack of manpower has been an issue for years in Leelanau County — but what’s really keeping workers away?


JACK BOSS, a carpenter in Maple City, spends about nine hours a week working at Northwood’s Hardware in Glen Arbor. Northwood’s Hardware owner Jeff Gietzen said establishing relationships with employees like Boss is an effective way to deal with the increasingly tight labor market in Leelanau County. JACK BOSS, a carpenter in Maple City, spends about nine hours a week working at Northwood’s Hardware in Glen Arbor. Northwood’s Hardware owner Jeff Gietzen said establishing relationships with employees like Boss is an effective way to deal with the increasingly tight labor market in Leelanau County. It depends on who you ask.

Some point to demographics or population patterns while others suggest it’s a generational issue. Leelanau County’s lack of affordable housing comes up.

Guzowski said that may be one contributing factor.

“It’s hard for workers to find places to live that they can afford,” she said.

Kate Vilter, Leland Chamber of Commerce president, said the workforce shortage is not a new phenomenon in Leelanau County or Traverse City.

It’s been a growing problem for years, but it was also an oftdiscussed topic in Leland this summer.

“I’ve pretty much heard it from everyone,” said Vilter, owner of The Riverside Inn.

Vilter assembled a full crew at the restaurant in time for the busy season, but unexpected staff changes left her looking to fill several positions. Replacements have been hard to come by.

She said a number of factors are at play.

“The demographics show we have an aging population,” Vilter said. “Our population isn’t supporting business growth. ... It isn’t centered around the 18-30-year-old range. I don’t know what the stats are, but we’re more in the demographic of over 60, so traveling for a $9-10-11 job just isn’t worth it.”

She doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

“I have a feeling this is our new reality,” Vilter said.

Jeff Gietzen, Glen Arbor Chamber of Commerce treasurer and owner of Northwood’s Hardware in Glen Arbor, said he doesn’t see it as a short-term issue either — perhaps because the reasons for a lack of workers have so many layers.

But affordable housing isn’t the biggest concern, Gietzen said.

“It’s certainly a demographic issue,” he said. “I don’t sense we’re on the verge of a big baby boom. I think it’s something that we’re going to live with. The business owners that are more savvy in creating more working relationships are probably more likely to fare better.”

To Gietzen, the adaptation process is all about establishing those working relationships.

He said the approach has allowed him to keep a crew around on a yearround basis.

He also said it may not be the best idea to rely on younger workers who have more options now than they did in the past.

“One, we use people who tend to be a little bit older,” he said. “Some of them are retired gentlemen who work as our hardware techs. Some of them are gals in their early 50s and early 60s. We retain a relationship with them all year long. Even though some of them don’t work many hours, they always know we’re looking and they want to come back.”

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