With the unofficial start of the summer tourism season within view, Ocean County business owners brought their concerns over the lack of available workers and the effect it could have on businesses and the local economy before the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.
“The Board provided business owners with an open forum during our May 19 meeting,” said Commissioner Joseph H. Vicari, liaison to tourism and business development. “We understand the problems. We understand what the business community is saying.”
Presenting their concerns to the Commissioners were Joe Leone Introna, owner of Joe Leone’s Italian Specialties, Point Pleasant Beach, and John Crisafulli, founder and past president of the Central Ocean Business Association.
Introna, armed with a binder that had more than 150 photos of businesses with help wanted signs throughout Ocean County, said finding workers to staff his Point Pleasant Beach store along with his Sea Girt store and his new location in Manasquan has become a daunting task.
“We have all worked hard to get through the pandemic,” he said. “And now that state regulations in place since the beginning of the pandemic are being lifted, we can’t find people to work for us.”
He noted he is not alone in his concerns.
“Within a 20 mile radius of Toms River, there are 16,000 job postings on Indeed (a popular employment website),” he said.
Introna, who has operated a store in Point Pleasant Beach for 24-years and is a graduate of the Ocean County Vocational Technical Schools, sent a letter to businesses and community members to help his effort to gather information and proof of the worker shortage that is a growing crisis across the state in order to present to government leaders.
“Small businesses across New Jersey are suffering from economic slowdowns or are closing their doors altogether, mostly as a direct result of the shortage of individuals that are willing to work following the yearlong COVID 19 Pandemic lockdown,” he stated in the letter. “Demand is coming back for many New Jersey business owners as the lock down is being lifted, however, operating our businesses and offering quality service to customers is increasingly challenging without a capable labor pool.
“Regardless of the industry, there is an apparent lack of individuals that are willing to work,” he wrote. “Jobs are available, but they remain unfilled.”
He noted some applicants expressed an interest in accepting a job offer if they got paid in cash in order to continue to collect state unemployment.
Response to Introna’s request for proof of the worker shortage was swift and considerable.
He mentioned that the binder he presented to the Commissioners was not the only one he had put together from his request noting other counties are having similar experiences with hiring workers.
Vicari noted that Introna’s efforts have gotten the attention of some media outlets and business organizations across the State.
“Tourism is a $5 billion industry in Ocean County and annually results in more than 40,000 jobs,” Vicari said. “Every tourism dollar spent in Ocean County circulates seven times. It’s our economic engine and if we cannot fill many of those jobs, we will feel the adverse effect on our businesses and the economy for years to come.”
Crisafulli said the concerns he is hearing mirror Introna’s and are impacting established businesses and new ones.
“Business owners are offering incentives, bonuses, and yet people are not showing up for job interviews even after making an appointment to do so,” he said.
Crisafulli’s organization has hosted meetings with elected officials on all levels of government to express their concerns.
“We will continue to bring this message to our elected leaders and to the community,” Crisafulli said. “This pandemic has created enough harm to our businesses. We want our businesses to be able to move beyond the virus and go successfully forward. We can’t do that without a workforce.”
Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners Gary Quinn extended the appreciation of the Board to the business owners for attending the meeting.
“Our businesses, and especially our small businesses, are the heart and soul of our economy,” Quinn noted. “We have worked with them throughout the pandemic, assisting with grant opportunities so they can keep their doors open. As we see state regulations associated with the pandemic lifted, we want all of our businesses to thrive.”