A small square sign sits in the window of Shipley Do-Nuts in Grapevine that reads, “Now hiring.” The sign has been up since before the restaurant opened in July, Owner Mike Beaty said, but it has only resulted in a few applicants.
Beaty said he has had greater success with online searches for workers because most of his employees come from outside of Grapevine, but it can be difficult to find workers who are willing to commute from another city.
Down the street at Winewood Grill, General Manager Carlos DeLeon said he is always looking for people to work at his restaurant but hardly ever uses “Now hiring” signs because so few of his employees live in Grapevine.
“Most people working in restaurants, a lot of them don’t live in Grapevine,” he said. “And it’s just the affordability. The apartments here and housing here is not as affordable as Lewisville, Euless or Bedford for my cooks, so they have to drive into the restaurants here in Grapevine.”
The struggle to find workers is not exclusive to businesses in Grapevine, Grapevine Economic Development Director Bob Farley said. The economy has resulted in low unemployment rates everywhere in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, leaving many businesses in a bind to find people to fill vacancies.
“Any conversation happening in any community right now in the country is about workforce, just for the reasons of the growth,” Farley said.
Daniel Cortez, Southlake deputy director of economic development, said that an economy with low unemployment rates creates a competitive and challenging environment to attract talent, and that this is not unique to just Southlake.
“Some industries do have to work harder to attract good employees more than others,” he said in an email.
Unemployment Below 4 percent
Grapevine’s Business Retention Manager Garin Giacomarro explained that a 4 percent unemployment rate is essentially the same as having no unemployment. Grapevine has been beneath the 4 percent rate for years, he said. The last time Grapevine had an unemployment rate above 4 percent was in 2014.
“Being low unemployment is great unless you’re hiring. Then there’s no one available,” Giacomarro said.
As of August, Grapevine’s unemployment rate is 3.1 percent. Southlake’s is slightly higher at 3.6 percent, and Colleyville’s is 2.9 percent. These are some of the lowest in Tarrant County, which as a whole has a 3.6 percent unemployment rate, according to data from the Texas Workforce Commission.
Giacomarro said almost every discussion he has with local businesses comes around to the difficulty of finding employees.
“The unemployment rate is simply so low that the people you have are moving up and the people that can find better jobs are finding those jobs very quickly, so that kind of has created this backfill, this vacuum that has been hard to fill,” said Ponce Duran, Grapevine Chamber of Commerce’s director of marketing and communications.
An issue of affordability
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers a household paying more than 30 percent of its income on housing to be cost-burdened. These families may have difficulty paying for everyday necessities, such as transportation and food. Giacomarro said business owners will tell him the lack of affordable housing in Grapevine makes it difficult for them to find employees.
The median monthly rent and mortgage in Grapevine, Colleyville and Southlake has steadily increased, according to census data from the past five years. Based on the calculated housing costs at the beginning of this year, homeowners would need an annual income of $76,000 to afford a rental in Grapevine without being cost-burdened, $100,000 to afford a rental in Colleyville and $156,000 to afford a rental in Southlake.
DeLeon said with the market being so competitive, potential employees have opted for shorter drive times since they have to live somewhere that is more affordable.
“If you looked at all the new apartments that are opening up around [Grapevine], for a decent place you’re looking at $1,400 for a one-bedroom, and you’re talking 800 or 900 square feet, so [my employees]might not be as willing to drive somewhere when they can easily work in one of the [Hurst, Euless, Bedford] areas and drive 10 minutes to one of the businesses [there],” he said.
DeLeon said the few that are willing to drive into town are able to take their pick of employment.
“It kind of gets to the point where it’s almost bidding which restaurant is going to pay more for the same position,” DeLeon said.
Beaty said that when Shipley was about to open, all he had to do was look across the street to see even more “Now hiring” signs.
“I cringed because I thought, ‘Oh no, we’re going to be up for the same resources,’” he said.
DeLeon said his workforce is the result of cooks from other restaurants who were not getting the wage they were looking for, and he was able to pay them 50 cents or a dollar per hour more.
“But in the same token they can go somewhere else that can give them more [than me],” he said.
Some business owners say they have resorted to other methods to bring in employees if they cannot afford to increase pay.
Caitlin Nichols, recruiter for LSG Sky Chefs, said her company provides free uniforms and shoes for its employees every year, and Beaty and DeLeon said they offer employees flexible scheduling.
Benefits like these inspired Mary Jo Tellin, the Grapevine Chamber’s director of program development, to help put together the North Texas Regional Job Fair, which assists even those individuals that are already working to find even better jobs. She said the companies at the job fair are always hiring.
“If you looked at just those I bet that is easily probably 10,000 jobs,” she said. “It’s staggering, especially this time of year as we’re going into seasonal [positions].”
Giacomarro said the TEXRail trains, scheduled to begin operations full-time in January, will help the issue, at least in Grapevine.
TEXRail is a 27-mile commuter rail project that will run from downtown Fort Worth to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport with various stops, including at the corner of Dallas Road and Main Street in Grapevine.
“We’re going to have mostly Tarrant County-side connectivity until Dallas gets interested. … But I think people will quickly realize, ‘Hey, if I come that far on the train and I can Uber or Lyft,’ or if there’s even an employee shuttle that someone will run to pick them up at the station, it could help,” Giacomarro said.
Heather Haak, human resources director for Embassy Suites in Grapevine, said her hotel could look at sending a shuttle to pick up employees once the train comes online.
A TEXRail solution hinges on the schedules the train will keep and if it is beneficial to employees. DeLeon said he is excited for the potential the train brings and that it will help his daytime shift. He is not so sure if his nighttime crew will benefit from the train, however.
Giacomarro and Farley said Grapevine city officials do everything they can to help businesses find employees, but there is no big solution to the issue.
“It’s just going to keep going on until the economy slows down again,” Farley said. “Hopefully that won’t be anytime real soon.”