Business owners, local chambers unite to resolve area hiring woes

Bridge Bertram said although she has a solid team working at her Lakeway Papa Murphy’s pizza franchise off RR 620, she has had trouble in the past hiring employees for store shifts.

“I believe that there is a [hiring crisis along RR 620],” said Bertram, who also sits on the Lakeway City Council. “It is pretty evident if you drive up and down [RR] 620, you’ll see ‘Help Wanted’ signs everywhere.”

Bertram said the Lake Travis and Bee Cave chambers of commerce are hearing that businesses are having a hard time finding employees.

In January, Bertram and the leaders of the Bee Cave and Lake Travis chambers as well as Kara King, a Bee Cave City Council member, met to discuss the area’s hiring issue. Bertram said she researched the idea of adding a bus stop along RR 620 with Capital Metro but found the cost to be about $265,000—“prohibitive” for service in the region, which is outside of the agency’s service area.

“That’s when we started talking about the [Capital Metro] RideShare Vanpool Program,” Bertram said. “Both chambers had probably thought about it for a long time but it was just a matter of getting Cap Metro involved.”

She said the big-box stores may be able to afford a vanpool but smaller businesses, such as Lakeway’s Papa Murphy’s and Fore restaurant, will not be able to pay for an entire van to bring in only two or three employees.

“So, at that point, I decided maybe we should create a co-op for the smaller businesses,” Bertram said.

On April 5, Capital Metro officials spoke to stakeholders—local business owners, city staffers and chamber members—about its vanpool program.

On May 3 Capital Metro and stakeholders met to discuss rideshare vanpool and other options, she said.

“I noticed it as a business owner long before I got involved with City Council,” Bertram said. “You post an ad in the paper or and you say here’s what we need. What most people don’t know who are applying for these jobs is that Lakeway is way out here. They’ll email you and be real interested, and you’ll contact them to come in for an interview. Then they never show up. You follow up and they say, ‘Oh, I never realized this was that far out.’”

In a November survey, the Lake Travis Chamber found most of the area businesses struggling were in retail and hourly wage fields, with some in offices such as medicine and law, president Laura Mitchell said.

“Like traffic, we don’t think this is something that will be resolved overnight,” she said. “However, the collaboration to resolve these issues for our community is underway.”

RR 620—from the Colorado River to Hwy. 71—lacks public bus service.

Both Lakeway and Bee Cave—cities outside the service area of public bus provider Capital Metro—would need to contract with the agency to obtain bus service, Capital Metro communications specialist Melissa Ayala said.

Bertram also cited the high rental market and lack of affordable housing in the area as contributing to the region’s employment issues.

King said she is aware of several Bee Cave businesses that are suffering because they cannot keep work shifts staffed or maintain enthusiastic workers. At the April 12 Bee Cave City Council meeting, she reported on the April 5 meeting between area stakeholders and Capital Metro.

“That [lack of staffing] means people can’t get the service they need,” King said. “It’s affecting businesses in multiple ways.”

Businesses would agree to support a co-op van and be charged by the number of seats each business occupies in the van, Bertram said. Organizers will need to determine van hours depending on the riders’ work schedules, she said.

It may be anywhere from six months to a year to put a program into place once the particulars are worked out, Bertram said.

“Once the rideshare vanpool program is going—if it goes well—then I think we’ll have more of an advantage to talk a little bit more about the park and rides and, eventually, bus stops,” she said.