#107. How will your local employers recruit workers amid a rural labor shortage?

Posted on | The Agurban

How will your local employers recruit workers amid a rural labor shortage?

Last week we told you about our Agurban Top Trends for 2007. We have found some great examples of how small towns in Kansas are overcoming Trend No. 7 – Labor Shortage, with creative ways to recruit and keep workers in their rural communities.

Amazon.com has a distribution center with nearly 700 workers in Coffeyville, KS, population 11,021. Amazon.com offers employees free shuttle rides from as far away as Tulsa, OK, 75 miles away and a 90- minute commute, and from Joplin, MO, 67 miles away. In addition to a free ride, the chartered buses offers riders free coffee, baked goods and movies to make the daily commute more pleasant. To compensate commuters for the inconvenience, Amazon.com pays them $12/hour compared to $10/hr for workers living in town. Employees with perfect attendance are also eligible for a game show-style contest with a $100,000 prize. The prize was a new car last year.

Nancy Harbutte, Marketing Director for Staff Management, the recruiting firm for Amazon.com, comments, ”Especially in rural communities where labor shortages exist, you have to be creative in how you bring people in. You have to be vigilant that you keep people there.”

Atlanta-based Newell Rubbermaid, Inc. has a manufacturing plant in Winfield, KS, population 12,206. When a Rubbermaid plant closed in Centerville, IA in June 2006, the company bused three busloads of Iowa employees and families to Winfield in an effort to convince them to relocate. The company successfully convinced 30 employees to move their families.

Employment at Rubbermaid’s Winfield plant is expected to reach 1,000 workers early this year. The company has began actively recruiting Hispanic workers, and last year hired an interpreter to work with supervisors to help bridge the communication gap with workers who are not bilingual. Rubbermaid also offers financial incentives to workers who sign on to be a mentor to new hires as a way to reduce turnover.

Economic development groups are also stepping in to address the rural labor shortage issue. Cowley County, KS, where Winfield in located, has spent $20,000 on print, radio and television advertising targeted to the Wichita-area labor market, hoping to make workers aware of job opportunities and quality of life attributes in Cowley County.

Another tactic commonly used to retain employees is huge raise increases. Cessna Aircraft has a manufacturing plant in Independence, KS, population 9,846, just 20 miles from Coffeyville. Cessna recently gave its workers throughout the nonunion plant average raises of $3.50 to $4 per hour. This prompted other firms in Independence to follow suit.

These are just three rural communities in Kansas and what their employers are doing to recruit and retain workers. What are your local employers doing to keep pace with labor shortages. What are your local economic development groups doing? What can you do?