It's raining jobs in Siskiyou County, but businesses can't find workers. What's the deal?

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Herald

Nurses. Groundskeepers. Teachers. Ranch hands. Delivery drivers. Line workers. Housekeepers.  Bank tellers. Electricians. All these jobs and more than 1,000 others are available in all corners of Siskiyou County, but business owners are having a hard time filling them.

Burger Express in Mount Shasta is closed temporarily until owners Steve and Lori Mapes can find enough workers to round out their crew.

Steve and Lori Mapes decided to temporarily close their Mount Shasta hamburger joint Burger Express until they can find the two part time workers they need to complete their crew – hopefully before the rush that comes with the Fourth of July.

Mapes has been in the restaurant business since 1982. He also owns Say Cheese Pizza in Mount Shasta.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Mapes said. “There is no incentive for people to go to work ... they can make the same amount on unemployment, sitting at home and watching TV.”

The extension of the extra $300 federal unemployment benefit through early September, finding child care, and concerns about contracting COVID-19 are among the reasons would-be job seekers are staying home, experts say.

But right now, there are more available jobs than there are workers in Siskiyou County, and businesses are feeling the pinch.

Siskiyou County unemployment data

Siskiyou County’s unemployment rate was 8.1% in April according to the most recent statistics available from the state’s Employment Development Department. This matches California’s jobless rate.

“It sounds high,” said Wendy Zanotelli, CEO of Smart Workforce Center, a nonprofit that uses federal dollars to provide job seekers with resources, training, education and job placement in Siskiyou, Shasta, Trinity, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. “But if you peel it back, it’s interesting. Siskiyou County has a population of 43,000, but only 16,000 are in the workforce ... There are 1,350 people who are unemployed, and there are currently 1,415 unduplicated jobs listed in Siskiyou County. So there are actually more jobs than there are workers.”

Crystal Geyser Roxane in Weed is having a difficult time filling positions, even with bonuses and later, insurance for the worker and their entire family paid for by the company.

Finding workers in Siskiyou County's 'a stretch'

Cindy Miller, Crystal Geyser Roxane’s human resource manager, said the company recently expanded their line and hired 20 new trainees at their water bottling facility in Weed. Finding them “has been a stretch,” Miller said. 

“It’s definitely not like it used to be,” said Miller. “In past years, we’d have 100 people applying. Now we’re seeing a third of that.”

Of the people who do apply, only about a quarter show up for their interviews, Miller said.

One positive: the employees they’ve found recently “are quality employees. These are people who want to work,” Miller said. 

Between base pay and bonuses, CG Roxane’s operators are making upwards of $19 an hour, said Miller. Within three to six months, trainees are hired and offered full benefits that are 100% paid for themselves and their families, Miller said.

But this often isn’t enough when a person can make $17 an hour on unemployment, especially when minimum wage is $14. 

Siskiyou County's job postings compared to unemployed individuals in April, 2021.

Siskiyou businesses are barely scraping by with smaller than normal staffs

Zanotelli said in April the Smart Workforce Center helped host a regional health care virtual hiring fair for 182 jobs – positions such as chief medical officer, registered nurses, cooks and front office receptionists – many of which were in Siskiyou County. 

Only 84 people registered for the digital event.

“We marketed the heck out of it, on Craigslist, social media, in the Bay Area,” Zanotelli said.

Mapes said he usually has a thick stack of applications of people wanting work at Burger Express and Say Cheese, but that stack has dwindled down to nothing. 

Siskiyou County's labor force in April, 2021

When Burger Express closed its doors, Mapes put his personal cell phone number on a sign in the window, asking interested workers to give him a call.

“I got one call in 10 days,” he said. “It’s a weird situation.”

Suzanne Bentley, general manager and chief operations officer at Mt. Shasta Resort said she’s desperate for employees in every department, but especially cooks.

“You can’t find a cook anywhere, for any price,” Bentley said. “If I didn’t have three longtime, loyal cooks, we wouldn’t be able to open the (Highland House) restaurant at all.”

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The resort usually has 85 employees during the summer, Bentley said. This year, it’s operating with 54.

She’s also looking for servers, groundskeepers and housekeepers. She’s advertised on Zip Recruiter, Indeed and Monster, but she’s had very few leads, aside from some spammy applications from people overseas.

“When we do get an application, I’ll print it out and give it to the managers to call. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they will not answer and they have no answering machine,” Bentley said.

She surmises that many of the applicants are putting in applications to satisfy the EDD’s requirement that they’re looking for a job, but never intend to start working while their unemployment benefits are so appealing.

The Mt. Shasta Resort’s food and beverage department is down to less than half its normal size, and the grounds crew at the golf course – usually 12 employees – is five or six. Several times, new employees have shown up for a day or two of work, and then decide it’s not worth it since they’re making just as much or more on unemployment, Bentley said.

Although demand is high – particularly for lodging and golf – “we can only do so much with the course,” Bentley said. “We are having record sales, but all we can do is keep it mowed and healthy since there’s no spare labor.”

The saving grace for the resort’s lodging crew is they’re not offering stayover service during the pandemic. If someone is staying in a cabin for several days, they’re not cleaning until after checkout.

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And because their restaurant crew is so small, the menu and the Highland House hours have shrunk. 

“People don’t understand. They come in to eat and ask, ‘Where’s the prime rib? Where’s the chicken marsala?’ They don’t understand that we don’t have enough cooks or the wherewithal to have a full, three page menu with such a small crew.”

Mapes is hoping the situation will improve now that high school students are getting out for the summer and they’re looking for work. But he is looking forward to the day when unemployment benefits aren’t more profitable than a regular paycheck.

He pointed out that chain restaurants like Burger King and Taco Bell are able to offer signing bonuses and higher wages for their workers – something that’s out of the question for smaller, mom and pop businesses like his to afford.

“I’m hoping things will slowly start to change soon,” Mapes said.

Mapes said he’s hiring for all positions, but he’s most in need of delivery drivers and people old enough to work the counter and pour a beer.

Because his crew at Say Cheese is so small, he’s been paying more overtime to the employees he does have than ever before. If he can’t hire four workers soon, Mapes is considering closing Say Cheese one or two days a week. 

“I don’t want to do that, but it’s my plan B,” Mapes said.

Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation, lifelong Siskiyou County resident.