The high price of low unemployment

Although Edmond's employment rate is low, it's creating obstacles for business owners who are struggling to stay open.
Now hiring signs in Edmond

There’s a new trend in decor around Edmond these days: “help wanted” signs.

Recently, Oklahoma City topped the list of US cities with the lowest unemployment rate at just 2.6%, the lowest since December 2019, meaning most residents are employed and not needing to find work. Edmond’s current unemployment rate is reported to be 2.0% and 3.2% for the state of Oklahoma as a whole. While this sounds like a good thing, and certainly can be, it could be harmful to Edmond business owners.

Locals would tell you they’re seeing the impacts of the low unemployment rate with increased wait times at restaurants, some even needing to close their dining rooms or adjust hours due to short-staffing. Even businesses that are not restaurants are having trouble finding hourly help to keep their doors open.

Caleb Bills, business development manager for Express Employment Professionals in Edmond says that in his personal experience interviewing and hiring, many are holding out for higher wages and aren’t in as big of a hurry to accept a position offering the same pay as pre-COVID.

Businesses are forced to differentiate their pay and benefits to attract candidates, and while Bills says sign-on bonuses were used before COVID, it has definitely increased this year.

Big O Tires in Edmond attempts to attract applicants with a sense of humor (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

“Businesses are having to do whatever they can to differentiate themselves to attract applicants,” said Bills. “Most notably, the majority of our client companies are having to increase wages to attract the same talent. Some have also offered work-from-home opportunities or more flexible schedules overall to retain current employees and attract new ones. I do believe that a percentage of the workforce has fears of COVID-19 and is holding out in hopes for work-from-home opportunities. Businesses are having to adjust their pay to remain competitive. ”

Edmond businesses are seeing the impacts of this first-hand, especially locally-owned and operated ones.

Kim Hobson Nixon, whose father created Hobby’s Hoagies, has had an Edmond footprint for decades on S. Santa Fe.

In a recent comment in the Facebook group “Edmond Foodies,” a group founded at the start of the pandemic to connect Edmond restaurants who were offering to-go dining and residents who wanted to support their local restaurants:

“As a restaurant owner, food costs are crazy high right now, and many businesses are having to [hire] $2-$3 more an hour per employee,” said Nixon. “So, combine that with the slower business since COVID, and some can’t keep their doors open or have to reduce hours [and] hope they don’t run off their existing crew because they are having to work too much.”

A trickle-down effect from manufacturing slowing, or in some cases halting, during the start of the pandemic is that supplies are harder to come by, driving cost increase. There simply isn’t enough supply to meet demand, and restaurants are feeling the pressure right now as they have to adjust their offerings as supply chains struggle.

While it isn’t clear how long the struggle to find workers will continue, it is clear that this is impacting Edmond residents in ways many ever thought possible.

“I have seen a few businesses in the Edmond area, unfortunately, go out of business due to staff shortages. I think some smaller mom and pop shops simply don’t have the capital to compete or the ability to attract new employees with increased pay.”

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About Susan Hoover

By day, Susan Hoover is a bridgebuilder for students at Oklahoma Christian University, her alma mater, overseeing the Calling and Career Office: Day Six. In this role, Susan walks alongside prospective students, current students and alumni to help them discover their gifts, launch a career, and give them the tools to turn that dream into a reality. By night, she wrangles a toddler, watches too much tv, and tackles the occasional DIY project.

Previously, Susan worked in communications for a statewide nonprofit, a PR agency with cross-country clientele, and a Level I trauma hospital. After spending some time in the Dallas area, Susan and her native Edmondite husband, Taylor, returned to Edmond with their daughter, Avery. Though a native Kansan, Edmond has always felt like home.