LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Several Kentucky employers are increasing wages and offering hiring bonuses to fill open positions.

Amid an ongoing massive labor shortage, small business owners are struggling to staff up as they compete with large companies for workers. 

What You Need To Know

  • Small businesses are fighting with larger companies to keep their current employees and providing incentives to attract to new ones

  • Corner Cafe in Louisville increased employees pay and is offering $250 sign on bonus

  • According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 51 percent of small businesses are currently unable to fill open positions.

  • Corner Cafe in Louisville says anyone with a free hand and is ready to work is welcome to apply

For longtime restaurant owner and chef like Randy Frederick of Corner Cafe in Louisville, the pandemic served up a number of challenges.

"With the two PPP loans and personal money about $230,000 just to keep it going and keep everybody employed," explains Frederick.

The ongoing labor shortage and other factors are continuing to persist as the grandfather of three tries to offset the losses during the pandemic.

And while they’ve fought through, Frederick says a shortage of workers is causing some serious headaches.

"Nobody wants to work or they want to be paid you know like $15 to $20 an hour, and you know this is the restaurant business," suggests Frederick.

The 61-year-old has been searching for employees daily, but has not had any luck.

"Everybody that’s here they don’t want to go anywhere everybody is fine its just trying to get other people in here," explains Frederick.

According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 49% of small businesses are currently unable to fill open positions.

Much of that is due to places like UPS, Amazon, and Walmart offering higher wages and new incentives like sign on bonuses.

To compete in this labor market, sign on bonuses are also being given out for new staff members at the restaurant, and current employees are being given raises in an effort to keep them working.

"You stay a month I’ll give you $250, but I can’t get anybody. I’ve had one person come in and fill out an application in two weeks," adds Frederick 

A large number of employees like server Doug Schnider stuck it out with him.

Schnider says working for a small business has its own perks.

"It’s just a good family atmosphere they really want to like make sure everybody’s on the same page with everything and doesn’t feel less than and doesn’t feel more than so if I go to a corporate place you’re never going to have that, explains Schnider.

The father of one has worked in the industry for nearly three years. During the pandemic he began thinking about leaving the career behind.

"It was tough to be like are we going to be able to afford to buy diapers, are we going to be able to pay rent," said Schnider.

However, through it all, the 30-year-old decided to stick it out and says generosity and loyalty comes at a price.

"It would just feel wrong to do something like that and I just love working here," adds Schnider when asked if he would consider going somewhere else for higher wages.

Corner Cafe is not the only business that has struggled to find help.

Rick Miller owns three Ace Hardware locations across Louisville and says they are unable to offer some benefits like bigger businesses can.

"It’s been a little bit of a challenge with every offering you know the really high wages and everything, but really as long as you take care of your good help you know they’re going to take care of you," explains Miller.

He says most of his employees start out making $12 an hour, and says currently they’ve had no problem finding good workers.

"If you treat them like a number, if you don’t go the extra mile to help them out then they have the option to go somewhere else very easily because everyone’s hiring," said Miller.

With plenty of curveballs being dealt over the last two years, the ride is far from over however business owners alike are just trying to hold on.

Restaurant management at Corner Cafe in Louisville says anyone with a free hand and is ready to work is welcome to apply.