Social distancing measures implemented to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus have struck a blow to large swaths of Austin’s local economy, forcing many businesses to close or significantly reduce their operations, and many laborers to file for unemployment.
On March 17, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and acting Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt issued an order prohibiting dine-in service for all bars and restaurants and limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people in the Travis County area, effective until at least May 1. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott followed that up on March 19 with a similar statewide decree, effective through April 3.
Bar and restaurant owners told Community Impact Newspaper the order was necessary but painful. Facing significant layoffs, they said they were worried about their staff and the future of their business.
"There is no strategy, there is no choice; I’m worried about my staff,” Simon Madera, owner of local restaurant Taco Flats, said March 17. “I’m going to encourage staff to apply for unemployment. We’ve never had an unemployment case since our company started. These are just crazy times.”
However, amid the trend of layoffs across certain industries, several local employers are hiring for work right now, and others are working to offer short-term employment, according to Workforce Solutions Capital Area, a local arm of the Texas Workforce Commission that leads workforce development initiatives, connects employers to employees and vice versa.
“There is still hiring going on and there are still employers who are looking to hire talent,” said Tamara Atkinson, CEO of Workforce Solutions Capital Area. “Even amidst this crisis, employers are looking to hire to respond to short-term needs.”
As of March 19, Workforce Solutions Capital Area showed 19 employers currently hiring for 446 different positions. Atkinson said these employers are looking to bring people on right now.
The employers include grocers such as H-E-B (97 openings), Whole Foods Market (35 openings) and Randalls (22 openings) as well as facility management companies such as ABM Industries (103 openings) and security teams such as Allied Universal Security Services (100 openings). Others include Mary Lee Foundation, which serves adults with special needs (18 openings) and Clean Scapes Landscaping (20 openings).
More information about these jobs can be found at Workforce Solutions’ Work in Texas website.
Leslie Sweet, a spokesperson for H-E-B, said the company is “running at a full clip” and has received hundreds of applications for job opportunities.
“We’re in good shape in our stores today with product and people,” Sweet said in an email.
Online retailer Amazon announced earlier this week it would hire 100,000 new workers across the country at its fulfillment centers and within its delivery network. Amazon has a fulfillment center near the corner of Metric Boulevard and Rutland Drive in North Austin. Those interested in applying can learn more here.
Zilker Theater Productions, the organization that puts on shows at the Zilker Hillside Theater during the summer, was also offering short-term employment to those who lost work due to the coronavirus. Andrew Cannata, the organization’s executive artistic director, said all positions had been filled for the next two weeks as of March 19. If more openings came up, Cannata said the organization would let the community know.
“Our mission is to serve the people of Central Texas and we appreciate [everyone] in helping us build a stronger community, particularly during this difficult time,” Cannata said in an email. “Working together, we will emerge from this situation a better, happier community.”
Austin City Council Member Kathie Tovo said her office has had conversations regarding a local program similar to former President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which put those unemployed by the Great Depression to work on necessary public works projects. Tovo said nothing solid has been proposed at this point.