Vol. I, No. 1, Summer 1987


OzarksView

Where Have All The Workers Gone?

by Albert H. Moon



In the years since 1970 there has been an explosion of population (115 percent) and an explosion of work force (137 percent) in Taney and Stone counties of Missouri. And yet, for June 1986 the Missouri Employment Security Office in Branson reported 230 job orders it could not fill. Where have all the workers gone? Although there is some reason to believe young people may be leaving the community to find better-paying, steady employment outside the area (of the 1976 work force, 29 percent was under 22 years of age, while of the 1986 work force only 21 percent was under 22), it would appear that the numbers of available jobs has far outdistanced the labor force.

In 1970 an estimated 2,000 motel and resort rooms were available in the area of Kimberling City, Indian Point, Branson, Rock-away Beach and Forsyth. In 1985 there were approximately 7,500 rooms in that area, an increase of 275 percent. In that same period, the area jumped from five music shows to 20, plus additional seats al the early five, Shepherd of tile Hills Theater and Silver Dollar City music center. There is no available estimate of restaurant seats in 1980, but in 1985 there were approximately 14,700 seats in the Branson/Tri-Lakes area.

It becomes obvious that the available work has far exceeded the work force willing to accept part-time (three to seven month) employment at minimum wages or slightly above. And the problem is not limited to the Branson/Tri-Lakes area. A similar but smaller problem appears to exist in the Lake Ozark area and possibly in other tourist - oriented rural sections of Missouri. What to do?

With little manufacturing industry to support the population, main-raining the services needed to bring tourists back year after year becomes critical. But where do we look for the additional work force needed lo fill the available jobs? The birth rate dropped dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s, so there are fewer people in the 16 to 24 year old age bracket at a time when demand for part-time or entry - level workers in service industries is growing.

Nationally, service businesses, fast-food giants in particular, have recognized the problem and are dealing with the labor shortage in several ways. According to an article appearing in the Oct. 26, 1986, Springfield News-Leader, Ann Kokenge, public relations representative for Burger King Corp., said Burger King's 4,800 outlets were dealing with the labor shortage by recruiting senior citizens and, in some instances, disabled persons. Burger King's practice offers at least one possible approach to the solution of our part-time labor force shortfall in the Branson/Tri-Lakes area.

In this era of plant closings and reduction in labor force at many manufacturing plants, there will be an increasing number of displaced workers, a number of whom will be given early retirement. Many of those working families forced into early retirement will need some supplemental income to maintain their standards of living even close to those to which they have become accustomed. The Branson/Tri-Lakes region is an acknowledged retirement area with a lifestyle many retirees find attractive. If we can establish contact with those early retirees, a percentage of them should certainly be attracted to our area and could then fill some of the now unfilled jobs.

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There are other alternatives for recruiting labor -- locating manufacturing plants with wage scales attractive to families that might move to the area, for example. But attracting retirees seems to be the most practical solution at this time. The Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce is working on a program to reach and attract those workers to the Branson/Tri-Lakes area. We must be successful if we are to continue to be one of the favorite tourist destinations in the Mid-west.

Albert H. Moon is vice president for business development for Cen-terre Bank of Branson.


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