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State Fair Vendors Facing Tight Labor Market

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - "Help Wanted" signs have become as common as welcome mats across North Texas, and the great State Fair of Texas is no exception. But there are additional challenges.

"For us, it's 24 days! We only have 24 days! Who's going to work for somebody for just 24 days, right? It's a temporary gig," explains Justin Martinez.

He and his father, Rudy, have several locations at the fair, and he says they saw the staffing crisis coming.

"Just going about our daily lives, just going out to a restaurant and seeing the challenges. It's an hour wait! Not because they're crowded, but because they're short staffed!" says the younger Martinez.  "We knew then, it was going to be a challenge for us."

In response, Justin says they were creative and went to work looking for workers, early.

"Trying to get as many people that worked with us in the past, and then, pay. That was a big one," shares Justin.  "We're not taking any chances. We are paying good this year and if they finish all the way through the fair we are going to make sure to give them a bonus."

COVID's long reach this year has increased competition for those workers making up what's called the 'gig economy', says Martinez.

"The combination of government assistance, rental assistance, and then being able to work from home.  Before, this was a nice little side gig, but COVID has created a new economic environment, so people are good."

In addition to payroll impact, the pandemic is also being blamed for supply chain shortages-- and that could threaten availability of a new menu item this year.

"It's called the bougie dog," explains Justin, "and so of course, we need some good lobster. We need 500 pounds.  They only have 100 pounds for us! We're checking restaurant depot. We're jumping through hoops! Usually it's the normal stuff, like, is that plug working?  Now we're having to shift and think about how are we going to have enough supplies to sell?"

State fair vendors say between the tight labor market, supply chain issues, and of course, there's still COVID-- there's never been a ramp up to opening day quite like this one.  And yet-- it is all so worth it.

"Oh my gosh! are you kidding me?!" exclaims Justin.  "If I had to choose between being overly anxious and not having a fair at all, let's be nervous! Let's be scared! Let's go for it. So, we're ready for the fair to begin."


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