WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — March 17, 2020 was a hard day for restaurant employees in Iowa. After Gov. Kim Reynolds issued the state's first COVID public health emergency, their dining rooms were closed literally overnight, and suddenly their staff didn't have a job to do.
"They all lost their jobs, and literally left the industry to join another industry, because they all had families," said Nick Kuhn, owner of The Hall. "And two years after that still wasn't a stable enough business to be attractive for them to change their career."
That leaves restaurant owners like Kuhn in a hard position, but he's one of many entrepreneurs looking towards solutions.
On Saturday, Kuhn and three other local business leaders hosted a town hall at The Hall in West Des Moines, sharing their employment struggles with community members.
"Two years ago, I didn't need to make a big deal if I had an open position. If it was on the internet, I was gonna get applicants," said Sara Bath, Operations Manager with IowaWORKS. "Now I'm actually going out there and I'm doing my own recruitment, I'm posting my own stuff."
There have been some positive developments; Iowa's unemployment rate is down to just over 3%, while the national rate at 3.5%. And at the end of 2022, Iowa had over 34,000 more jobs than at the end of 2021.
One reason speakers today gave for the shift—increasing employee flexibility, such as by providing advance pay or more leniency with sick days, has led to more loyal workers.
"Get innovative and creative for your employees, and see how you can get the best out of them, so that they're the happiest, and then if they're happy, they're going to be very productive," said Katherine Harrington, President & CEO of the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce.
According to Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa currently has 11,700 fewer unemployed people than we did at the end of 2021.