Florida business owners struggle to find workers: 'We shouldn’t be competing with the government'

Jobs remain unfilled despite 4.7% unemployment
Posted at 5:59 PM, Apr 01, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — Perhaps you can call it the flip side of Florida’s unemployment debacle.

Despite a statewide unemployment rate of 4.7% which is below the national average, Florida businesses are desperately hiring.

“We have a huge crisis on our hands”, said Carlos Gazitua of Sergio’s Family Restaurants, a family-owned operation with 13 locations and dealing with a 30% job vacancy rate.

“We just can’t find anyone, we’ve never seen it this bad,” Gazitua said.

In Palm Beach County, restaurateurs are also struggling to find new hires.

“We’re seeing an unprecedented need for people and we can’t seem to fill the positions,” said Jason Emmett of Paradigm Hospitality. The group operates four restaurants in Palm Beach County and Vero Beach, including the famed Sunday House in Delray Beach.

“We could hire a small army of people tomorrow and probably still not have enough,” Emmett said.

It’s no secret the pandemic hit Florida’s tourism and hospitality industry the hardest. A year later, you’d never know it walking the streets of top destination spots. But while the streets and beaches are packed with vacationers, many businesses are still struggling to fill open positions.

“It’s so busy but now I don’t have the people to wait on them,” said John Horne, owner of four Anna Maria Oyster Bars in Bradenton. All four of his locations are hiring.

“I’m working my people to death right now. They’re all working overtime because this is the only way I can keep my doors opened,” Horne said.

Horne also serves on the board of Florida’s Restaurant & Lodging Association where the need for workers has forced some members to adjust hours or even days of operation. The struggle is a top concern for members around the state who also believe the government has made it impossible for business owners to compete in the hiring game.

“You’re competing with the government, that’s not who we should be competing with for jobs,” he said.

While Florida’s unemployment benefits are among the stingiest across the country at just $275 per week, couple that with $300 per week of ongoing federal unemployment assistance due to the pandemic and, Horne said, people have little incentive to return to work.

“If it’s close to the same amount of money to stay home and get help then why go to work? I can go to the beach all day and still get a check.” Horn said.

In September, Florida’s minimum wage will increase to $10 per hour. It will continue to increase over the next several years until it reaches $15 per hour. But Carlos Gazitua is already going there and says others in the industry are going beyond just to get workers in the door now.

“You can pretty much ask what you right now, everything’s negotiable,” he said. His company is also being more creative in how they advertise for jobs including posting banners on Uber cars and hanging hiring tags on restaurant ’to go’ bags. Some businesses and career centers are also targeting high school students for apprenticeships.

It’s a problem these business owners fear the government helped create and may need to step in and help solve.

“How does a small business compete with someone that can print money, you can’t compete,” said Gazitua.

As part of an effort to help those out of work due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Governor waived several rules that serve as checks and balances to make sure those out of work are diligently searching for employment. The waiver has been extended several times but is scheduled to expire at the end of April.