'Most difficult time that we've had since the pandemic': Small businesses in Hampton Roads feel impacts of labor shortages

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Posted at 5:16 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 18:06:14-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Any way you cut it, it's rough out there right now for small business owners throughout Hampton Roads.

Travis Darden, the owner of Hampton Roads-based cleaning company Darden and Sons, said last year he had 18 employees. This year, he only has eight, causing him to lose close to $100,000 due to labor shortages.

"I'm wearing multiple hats right now. I'm wearing the hat of the employee, supervisor, manager and CEO of the company," Darden said.

Darden said many of his workers are being scooped up by higher-paying companies, mainly Amazon.

"We can't compete with the rates that they're paying, and obviously with inflation on prices, gas and just the cost of operation, it's almost making it impossible for us to even make that transition," Darden said.

But that's not the only issue.

"This is the most difficult time that we've had since the pandemic," Darden said. "When the omicron variant did surface last year, late last year, that really intensified things as well, and then after January 1, it seemed like everything just went in the opposite direction."

"Just this week we turned down [a contract with] 30 Sherwin-Williams throughout Hampton Roads, all the way to Franklin, just because of the lack of personnel," Darden added. "We're talking about $100,000 contracts."

While the cleaning business is flush with work, the employees that remain said they have to take on extra responsibilities.

"Now you're kind of helping out wherever is needed, and it's all over the seven cities," said Tamara Washington, an employee with Darden and Sons.

Just Wednesday, Darden said he lost two employees, meaning Washington has to step in.

"It differentiates between cleaning residential spaces to commercial, and then possibly floor work also," Washington said.

Workforce Council experts said small businesses should work with community leaders to attract potential workers, especially welcoming new residents.

Erica Spencer, the senior business development manager for the Small Business & Workforce Development in Hampton, said, "Whether that is working with a high school, getting some of those students in, or becoming part of programs like the reentry program, to get some of those returning citizens back to work."

Although many want to go back to a pre-pandemic workforce, Spencer said businesses have to be flexible at this time.

"You may lose an employee to a larger company that could pay more, but you may be able to get two part-time employees doing the same amount of work that may be high school seniors, or you may be able to get someone re-entering that has to have a job and has to get back on their feet that's willing to do the work," Spencer said.

Here are some resources if you're in need of assistance, and the owner of Darden and Sons LLC is hiring.

Click here for more resources from The Rebound.