EagleHerald Staff Writer

Xpress Self Storage just opened in June in Marinette, but its workers had the day off on Labor Day just like countless others in the area.

“We’re closed,” Property Manager Jackie Horsell said, in observance of the holiday that acknowledges the hard work employees put in.

“I think it’s an opportunity to be thankful for this job,” Edward Jones Financial Adviser Ian Wetzel said about the Labor Day holiday. But the day is also a way for employers to say thanks, especially in this area where recruiting new talent is important to the communities’ continued growth, he said.

Labor activists fought for better working conditions over 100 years ago, and their efforts during the Pullman strike and railroad boycott led to the national holiday, authorized in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland. He agreed workers’ contributions to America’s economic growth should be recognized.

Giving workers a paid day off is the way most employers in the Marinette-Menominee rewarded their employees on Monday.

Recognition and rewards are often the best way to retain workers, and retention is becoming more important in this area as unemployment levels fall, said Sue Erdman, Manpower area manager.

As workers retire, companies are having to work harder to find new talent.

“It’s definitely an employee’s market right now. I haven’t spoken to one employer that they’re not struggling to find workers,” Erdman said.

In the Marinette area, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a July unemployment rate of 4.5% for Marinette, down from 8.1% a year ago. The July unemployment rate for Green Bay was 3.6%, the Bureau said.

Menominee County’s July unemployment rate of 4.3% ranks ninth-lowest among all Michigan counties, and it’s lower than the Upper Peninsula’s July unemployment rate of 5.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The result is ample opportunity for skilled workers and challenges for employers with jobs to fill to meet customer demand. Wages are rising as a result, Erdman said.

Wetzel said he relocated from the Appleton area to the Menominee Edward Jones office where adviser Joe Peacock plans to retire in the next few years. “I got hired in Appleton, but they saw more opportunity up here,” Wetzel said. “We decided, why not? My wife and I didn’t feel tied down to Appleton. We feel it’s one of the best choices we’ve ever made.”

The aging of the population means many communities are retiring at a faster rate than new workers are joining the talent pool, he said. “Where the jobs are and where the workers are don’t always line up, and sometimes we forget about that,” he said.

Marinette-Menominee needs to recruit more workers, said Wetzel, who belongs to Wave Marinette-Menominee Young Professionals, which aims to welcome young professionals to the area and encourage them to become active community members. “For us to keep our town going, we need enough workers not only for labor but for our tax base,” he said.

“If we’re not able to catch this before we have more and more and more labor shortages, who knows what our labor situation may look like,” he said.

While pay is important to workers, so is cost of living and lifestyle. “What retains me and keeps me going is a desire to share our community,” Wetzel said.

With a low cost of housing, the Marinette-Menominee area is more affordable than many larger cities. “Being in a small town, you’re also going to spend less on gas going to work,” Wetzel said.

For other young adults, creative maternal and paternal leave might be the draw.

The talent shortage is slowing development of new businesses by creating a bottleneck for those relying on skilled trades.

Horsell said it took longer than planned to build the new Xpress Self Storage facility, which opened in early June, because of a shortage of workers in the construction trades. “Every company complains about a shortage,” Horsell said.

To staff the new self storage business, Xpress hired two workers. “We were pretty lucky we were able to connect with the two people we ended up hiring. It happened when we needed it to,” she said.

Erdman said most companies in the Marinette-Menominee area are hiring. Throughout the Midwest, about one out of three businesses surveyed said they expect their payrolls to rise in the next quarter, according to Manpower’s quarterly employment outlook. That is if they can find new workers.

Among leisure and hospitality businesses, about 54% expect to add workers, followed by 40% for durable goods manufacturing, 36% for nondurable goods manufacturing, 33% for wholesale & trade, and 31% for construction. At the other end is information business, where 17% expect their payrolls to expand in the next quarter, the Manpower survey said.

Retailers and restaurants are stretched especially thin, and Erdman attributes it to a drought of younger workers. “Kids now have a lot of obligations between school and sports,” she said, and many aren’t seeking jobs. The short supply has boosted wages at some fast-food employers to $15 or more per hour from $8 an hour not long ago, she said.

The Peshtigo Chamber of Commerce is planning an Expo day for area students to introduce them to career options by hearing from presenters about various opportunities, from health care to manufacturing. The Expo was the focus of its Sept. 2 meeting. It’s timely given the number of help-wanted signs in the area, said Tony O’Neill, president of the Peshtigo chamber.

While a higher wage might lure an applicant, pay alone doesn’t guarantee the worker will last, Erdman said. In an employee’s market, workers who aren’t happy in their current positions often have no trouble landing work elsewhere.

But a revolving door can take a toll on the employer’s profits because recruiting, hiring and training new workers adds up. “From what I’ve been told, it can be up to $10,000 to hire somebody,” Erdman said, when advertising, human resources, and managers’ time is considered. A September 2021 Manpower report on “Predicting the talent pipeline” suggests hiring new workers costs the employer about 25% more than retaining existing employees.

What will keep workers from jumping ship? “They need to be appreciated,” Erdman said. They need to be acknowledged, whether monetary or saying thank you in another way.

The Labor Day holiday is one way to remind workers they’re valued. “It’s a way to appreciate all those hard-working people, all those who intend to work,” Erdman said. “Without good labor, it will be a very negative effect on the economy and the world in general,” she said.