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Now hiring: County unemployment rate down, businesses discuss hiring

BriarPatch Food Co-op lead cashier Kenny says they’re hiring, just like many other local employers that are looking to hire now that business is picking up with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
Photo: Elias Funez

Although “help wanted” signs remain a common sight throughout local commercial areas, Nevada County is in the top 10 counties in the state in terms of employment rate, according to the state’s latest numbers.

Data released June 18 by the state Employment Development Department says the previous month’s unemployment rate in Nevada County was around 5.6%.

This unemployment figure continues a decreasing trend for the county from March and April, which saw 6.1% and 5.8% unemployment, respectively — and especially in comparison to May 2020, when Nevada County saw a 13.1% unemployment rate.

In May, Ken Paige, owner of Nevada City restaurant Friar Tuck’s, said that while the number of employees at the restaurant had not changed much during the pandemic, his staff had noted that putting out notice of an open position was not bringing in as many interested applicants recently as it normally would.

At that time, Nevada City Classic Cafe had also observed a somewhat decreased applicant response to advertised open positions, according to general manager Sean Valentine, although he noted the small size of the restaurant’s team allowed operations to continue working out.

Grass Valley restaurant Jimboy’s Tacos, according to franchise owner Joel Perez, has been “pretty solid in terms of employee retention” since it reopened in October — an aspect which he says has been more of a challenge in the Sacramento area, where he operates another Jimboy’s Tacos franchise.

“I can’t really say I’ve had a lot of people coming in and wanting to apply, but they’ve been trickling in,” said Perez on the restaurant’s applicant volume.

BriarPatch Food Co-Op, one of the top 25 “major employers” in Nevada County, according to the state Employment Development Department, is “always hiring in one department or another,” said human resources manager, LeeAnne Haglund.

“We have seen a marked decrease in new qualified applicants over the past 18 months,” Haglund said in an email. “Our deli, as our largest department, faces the biggest challenges with hiring.”

She noted that management positions receive more interest, although these are limited.

Asked about feedback the business has received on potential reasons for the decrease in applicant interest, Haglund said issues commonly brought up include “life changes,” like going back to school or moving to a new area, loss of rental housing, and “just wanting a new kind of work.”

“Transition after a year of lockdown is on many people’s minds,” wrote Haglund.

In an effort to attract applicants, BriarPatch is offering a signing bonus of $250 after the first 90 days and another $250 after six months to new hires who start between June 1 and Aug. 1, according to BriarPatch communications specialist Laura Petersen.

“We’re offering $100 gift cards to co-op owners who refer successful new hires to us,” Petersen added in an email.

According to Jess Carr, associate director of the Sierra Small Business Development Council with the Sierra Business Council, there are a number of creative ways the council has assisted the businesses they work with on hiring challenges.

One area the council advises in is “planning around that scarcity,” whether that means adjusting existing business hours, or workshopping internal training issues, said Carr.


“A lot of our brick-and-mortar businesses, be it retail or restaurant, are struggling to hire enough people to now open at full capacity,” said Carr.

Although the Sierra Business Council is based in Truckee, its services extend to businesses in Placer, El Dorado, Sierra, Modoc, Lassen, and Plumas counties in addition to Nevada County.

BriarPatch Food Co-op meat and seafood manager Matt Margulies helps to restock the shelves at the store with fresh product.
Photo: Elias Funez

Carr said it is not easy to identify a single reason for the hiring challenges many businesses are experiencing.

“I think that a lot of people have ideas about why that is, but it does seem to me personally to be a conglomeration of a number of different things that are coming to a head — COVID-19, lack of childcare, lack of affordable housing, lack of great benefits in some cases,” said Carr.

Carr said the organization connects people with other local resources, such as the Truckee Jobs Collective or the Alliance for Workforce Development. “Those are things we can help connect the dots for with the businesses, but from our perspective, what we can mostly help with is more creative business planning.”

The Alliance for Workforce Development, whose Nevada County offices are at 988 McCourtney Road in Grass Valley and 10075 Levon Drive in Truckee, works with both employers and people seeking employment.

Its upcoming events for July, for example, include online workshops on successful interviewing, resume building, and search.

The Sierra Small Business Development Council, said Carr, is also happy to offer its free services to businesses that need them.

“There are resources out there right now for businesses that are in need,” said Carr. “There are still COVID-related resources, and then there are new things popping up every day, so call us if you need help.”

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com

Correction: This story, which appeared in the Thursday, July 1, edition of The Union contained an error. Laura Petersen’s name was misspelled. The Union regrets the error.


Sierra Small Business Development Council at Sierra Business Council:

Call (530) 582-5022 or email at info@sierrasbdc.com

The Alliance for Workforce Development:

Visit https://afwd.org/ or call (530) 265-7088

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