Cory Hutchinson planned to cut peak summer operations from seven to five days at Funtown Splashtown USA when it reopened in May, and even then he did not know if he would have enough workers to run it.
To his surprise, one of Maine’s largest water and amusement parks has attracted enough workers to run all week, but at reduced hours because it still is not yet up to its full workforce. Like other Maine businesses, the park is contending with widespread labor and supply shortages amid high demand from visitors. Both are major hurdles as consumers unleash pent-up demand for purchasing and entertainment.
The Saco park reflects the experiences of other small businesses in the nation. More than half of U.S. small business owners expect disruptions in the supply chain to continue to affect their operations for five or more months, and 40 percent are still experiencing moderate to significant staffing shortages, a new survey by NFIB Research Center found.
To attract applicants, more than 60 percent of small businesses have boosted wages and 13 percent have increased paid time off or offered hiring bonuses. Still, about half are receiving fewer job applications than they did a month ago.
Hutchinson, Funtown’s general manager, was able to hire about 300 seasonal workers instead of the usual 550 pre-pandemic by offering up to $3 per hour more for most positions, plus four family-and-friends season passes to the park valued at $400. He was able to hire 40 J-1 foreign student visa workers compared with the usual 100. Still, evening park hours had to be cut.
“I remember coming as a child at night with all the lights and colors,” he said. “So that is something we’re really missing out on.”
Andy Wilbur has had a harder time getting employees with only half of his retail jobs filled. The owner of Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections in Freeport and Brunswick said high school students have helped plug the gap in entry-level positions, but he worries about what will happen when they go back to school in the fall.
At Pemberton’s Gourmet Foods in Gray, co-owner Sam Mangino, whose business volume has doubled over the last three years, also has had a hard time hiring, especially for manufacturing jobs that can seem repetitive.
He has tried online postings on Craigslist and Indeed and three different temp agencies, and offers $300 incentives to employees to stay six months. Still, he gets few to no applicants, and often potential workers don’t show up for interviews, which he attributes largely to people uninterested in the job but trying to fulfill unemployment requirements.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Despite the stiff competition for employees, business is getting back to normal, with Hutchinson saying activity at Funtown “seems like any other summer.”
But there is one big difference. Nearly every product he needs seems to be delayed in the supply chain, from swimming pool parts for pumps, supplies for sanitation and waste and items bought in bulk like toilet paper and garbage bags. Repairs that normally took six or seven days are now taking two or more weeks.
“We find out that a factory is working with less staff because they don’t have as many people, so they won’t be able to work on something as quickly for us as they had in the past,” he said.
Wilbur’s has come up short in getting its premium dark chocolate from its supplier in Pennsylvania, which shutdown for a couple months during the pandemic and then had trouble getting machines running again and hiring enough labor. Wilbur said that the factory is operating at half capacity, and he was told in January to get his order in for the end-of-year holidays by May. Some supplies won’t be available until November, while others won’t come until next year.
“We’ve had to scramble to get essentially all of our ingredients,” he said. “We’re having suppliers that we’ve worked with for 30-plus years tell us to order anything we want between now and Christmas right now because otherwise we probably won’t get it.”
Mangino has had to make two switches in packaging. He had to switch to glass bottles to package gourmet goods after he could no longer buy plastic ones, which were being used for hand sanitizer during the pandemic. But demand for glass bottles became so strong that the shipments he was supposed to get in January or February didn’t come until May. Lead times are now up to nine months, so he had to cut back on how many sizes of gourmet goods he offers.
Shipping prices also tripled from the beginning of the year from $4,000 per container of glass bottles to $15,000 or more now, and he expects inflation to drive prices up even more over the next year.
“Buying and replenishing products has gotten completely out of control,” Mangino said.