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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Some Southern Utah Businesses Struggle To Find Workers As Utah Boasts Low Unemployment Rate

A photo of a street in Cedar City.
David Fuchs
Iron County’s unemployment rate was 2.6% in June, which is just below the state’s average.

Utah’s unemployment rate is the second lowest in the country at 2.7%, but businesses are struggling to find workers in the tight labor market.

Lecia Langston, a senior economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said everybody is pretty much back to work and aren’t searching for jobs, especially among lower-paying industries.

“There's an old economist adage that there are no labor shortages, there are only wage shortages,” she said.

Shane Behunin owns All American Diner in Cedar City. He said he closed his restaurant for two months during the beginning of the pandemic, but 2021 is turning into one of his best years — especially with everyone traveling and spending money.

But Behunin is struggling to hire workers, even when he said he offers competitive wages and frequent bonuses. He said maybe he’ll get one applicant a week.

Now, he’s spending more for employees to work overtime just to keep the restaurant open.

“That's money that normally I would have [for] someone at a regular hour wage instead of paying them time and a half,” Behunin said. “We're talking a considerable amount. So it probably cost me 3% on my bottom line just in extra overtime that I had to pay to keep us going.”

DoughnutsVille sits down the street from All American Diner. Its owner, Toro Vaun, took over the donut shop in November and has been on the search for a baker for the past few months.

Vaun’s had a few different people in the job, which requires a lot of work and early hours. However, he said those employees didn’t stay around longer than a few weeks, and in one case, the person lasted a day.

“One thing is maybe the work and second thing is because there's the possibility out there for employees is even better because everyone is hiring in town from the factory to restaurants,” he said. “You can see the signs. Everywhere is hiring. So I don't blame them at all because they have better possibilities.”

Despite the challenges Behunin and Vaun are facing, they said they’re optimistic the labor market will eventually level out.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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