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South Coast Businesses Turn Away Customers Amid Labor Shortage

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Precision Window & Kitchen in New Bedford

A worker shortage continues to plague companies across the South Coast. For some small business owners, it’s a blow to their bottom line.

Ryan Pereira manages sales at Precision Window & Kitchen, a construction supplier and contractor in New Bedford. He said customer demand is at an all-time high, but he can’t find workers to bulk up his seven-person staff.

“I have to turn away business,” said Pereira. “I hate to do that, but I’d rather turn away business than make promises I can’t fulfill.”

Pereira has eased the screening process for potential workers. “You don’t know how many interviews I set up—no one shows,” he said. “Right now, if you show up for an interview, you have a job. Guaranteed.” So far, the strategy hasn’t worked.

“Virtually all our businesses are looking for employees at this point,” said Rick Kidder, co-CEO of the business group One SouthCoast Chamber. He added that every sector, from construction to hospitality, is on the hunt for labor. “They are being hamstrung in their ability to fulfill orders and do things on time, because they are challenged in getting employees.”

Kidder said a variety of factors contribute to the worker shortage, including a lack of affordable childcare, potential employees’ hesitancy to be exposed to COVID-19 and elevated federal unemployment benefits. Those benefits expire in September.

Until then, Kidder said business are raising wages, offering signing bonuses and awarding referral bonuses for employees who recruit family or friends.

“In truth,” said Kidder, “most of those incentive programs have done little to alleviate the problem.”

Daniel covers the South Coast for WCAI. He comes to the station from Minnesota Public Radio, where he reported on science and the environment. Daniel has produced audio documentaries on a motley mix of topics, from the science of sewage to the history of automobile license plates. He holds a PhD in climate change ecology from the University of Minnesota. Daniel is a 2021-22 Report For America corps member.