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ARCHIVED  October 22, 1999

Wyoming retailers shop for workers

Not unlike their national counterparts, Wyoming retailers’ primary concern is finding good employees and keeping them. Here, several of the state’s shop owners share their thoughts on Wyoming’s labor situation.

“Far and away, our No. 1 concern has been and continues to be getting well-qualified employees,´ said Tim Joannides, owner of Halladay Motors in Cheyenne, which employs 94 people. “We’re increasing market share, business is growing, and it’s hard to find the right people to keep up with the growth of the business.”

Joannides echoes the worries of many small businesses in the area. “We’re working with our local economic-development organization, Cheyenne LEADS, in hopes they’ll bring more people to the area, increasing the labor pool,” he said.

Small-business owner Terry Lahiff thinks that a congressional hike in the minimum wage might increase the labor pool.

“Some employers will probably have to lay off some workers,´ said Lahiff, who owns Wyoming Trophy and Engraving in Cheyenne, “and that can only add to the pool of available workers.”

Lahiff and others, though, say the likelihood of a minimum-wage increase is not a concern to them, because they must start even part-time workers above that mark in order to attract qualified employees.

Trying to offer a benefit package that’s as good as a larger employer’s is a related concern. Kym Zwonitzer, who with her husband owns Z’s Home Furnishings in Cheyenne, said that her company has lost a couple of employees to larger companies because of benefits.

On attracting workers, Zwonitzer said, “It used to be that you ran an ad in the paper and you got 40 to 50 applicants, and you got four or five good prospects. Now, we run an ad and get little or no response from that or even through employment agencies or the local community college.”

Patrick Collins, owner of the Bicycle Station in Cheyenne, echoes the concern that small employers will find it increasingly difficult to keep up with the benefit packages offered by larger firms.

“We just can’t provide the longer-term vacations and things like that, which larger businesses are able to provide,” Collins said. “We can’t afford to do without a specialized employee for very long at one stretch.”

Running a small business in Wyoming also brings challenges brought on by the state’s low population, many smaller employers say.

“We don’t have the population base Colorado, for example, enjoys, so we have to work either harder or smarter to make the same profit margin,” Joannides said. “And though our business taxes are currently low, we worry that with a hungry state government facing a budget shortfall of $183 million, they’ll be looking at things like a corporate income tax, which is on the table after a summer-long study of the situation.”

Collins, too, worries that the state Legislature may look to “balancing the state’s budget on the backs of small businesses.” He sees the possibility of increased taxes on business, something like an inventory tax, which Wyoming currently doesn’t have, as being more likely in the coming legislative session next February.

Lahiff said he’d like to see Wyoming move to a privatized workers’ compensation system similar to Colorado’s.

“Other states have lower rates when they have private [workers’ compensation] systems, and that would help our business because we’re partly manufacturing, which under our system has higher rates,” he said.

The state’s smaller population should help the age-old business problem of debt collection, but employers surveyed by the Wyoming Retail Merchants Association think they have as many problems as their larger-state business brethren.

“It’s mostly from those who we know have the money to pay – they’re just slow payers,” Lahiff says.

One advantage of being a smaller business is that you tend to not focus on profits, said Rob Monroe, owner of Nate’s Flowers in Casper,.

“We all started in some back room and so we’re more sensitive to the needs of our employees,” he said. “We have to make a profit, but after that, we are not driven by greed for the most part, we’re looking at helping our employees who are oftentimes in the same boat we started in.”

Monroe thinks improved Internet service, which is slowly coming to Wyoming, will actually aid the state’s employers. He said that in the coming millennium, we will see better communication, which will help expose those companies that are good businesses.

“It’s a network that’s like a small town, where everyone knows about bad employers through word of mouth,” Monroe said.

Even with the challenges of doing business in a smaller population base, bicycle-shop owner Collins speaks for many business owners when he says, “Its still a blessing to be able to do business here. It’s a great place to live and raise a family, and if you can maintain a profitable business on top of that, and you can live here without too much trouble, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Lynn Birleffi, is executive director of the Wyoming Retail Merchants Association.

Not unlike their national counterparts, Wyoming retailers’ primary concern is finding good employees and keeping them. Here, several of the state’s shop owners share their thoughts on Wyoming’s labor situation.

“Far and away, our No. 1 concern has been and continues to be getting well-qualified employees,´ said Tim Joannides, owner of Halladay Motors in Cheyenne, which employs 94 people. “We’re increasing market share, business is growing, and it’s hard to find the right people to keep up with the growth of the business.”

Joannides echoes the worries of many small businesses in the area. “We’re working with our local economic-development organization, Cheyenne…

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