Sandusky, Ohio, theme park Cedar Point doubled its minimum wage to $20 to spur employees to get back to work this summer amid a staffing shortage, but surrounding businesses are worried they will not be able to do the same.
"They're doing what they need to do," Sandusky small shop owner Kula Lynch told Cleveland.com. "The problem is, most other small businesses can't compete. We should be making money now and nobody can because they can't staff their business.
"I can't pay $20 an hour – I just can't. That would basically put the business under," she added. "For the high school kid, the college kid – are they going to work for me for $10 or $11 or go to Cedar Point for $20? The choice is obvious.
"These wages aren’t sustainable," she concluded.
With COVID-19 pandemic restrictions lifting in Ohio and employers slow to lure workers back, Cedar Point doubling its minimum wage from $10 to $20 spurred a needed staffing surge after its announcement last month.
"I was shocked that they were that aggressive," Cleveland State University economics professor and Associate Dean Bill Kosteas added. "Clearly, they feel they needed to be."
The first summer post-COVID portends to be a busy one for tourism as long-sheltered Americans seek to return to some normalcy.
"The summer months are crucial," Ohio Travel Association Executive Director Melinda Huntley told Cleveland.com. "If they're not able to operate fully, it's going to mean more businesses lost, more jobs lost."
Staffing for the crush is proving difficult, particularly small businesses, according to the report.
"It's fascinating the speed at which this has happened," Case Western Reserve University's Michael Goldberg, the executive director of the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship, said.
"The need for workers has caught people flat footed."
Academics see the supply and demand as a sure-fire path to price increases for consumers, too, eventually.
"I don't see any other way around it," Kosteas told Cleveland.com. "For a lot of businesses, labor is the single biggest cost. I'm sure it's not an overstatement to say they're very worried."
And the wage increases will stick, too, because you cannot cut pay.
"If you want that $20-an-hour worker to come back next summer, you better not cut their pay," Goldberg concluded.
Chipotle, a popular fast food restaurant for younger Americans, announced nationally it was raising its menu prices up to 4% to pay employees an average of $15 an hour.
"It's capitalism," Sandusky Paddle Bar owner Ryan Whaley told Cleveland.com. "Do I love it? No. They're allowed to do it. It's what we all signed up for.
"I've always paid a little bit more than typical bartender wages."
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