$18 an hour to work at McDonald’s? Moab’s labor shortage means higher pay — if you can find housing

‘Workforce shortage is currently the number one issue challenging businesses in Moab.’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A now hiring sign at the McDonald's in Moab offers $18/hour for new employees, on Thursday, June 3, 2021.

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With employees hard to find and the summer tourism season heating up, businesses in Moab are offering big bucks for local service positions.

A Wingate hotel in the area and an independently-owned McDonald’s advertise hourly wages of $21 and $18 respectively, although details were not available on whether the rate would start right away. A McDonald’s job posting in Salt Lake advertises a starting wage of $12 per hour.

Laici Shumway, executive director of the Moab Chamber of Commerce, said in an email that increases of $5 per hour to starting wages have become more common with an escalating workforce shortage in the area.

“Workforce shortage is currently the number one issue challenging businesses in Moab,” Shumway said. “Some restaurants are closing during days and hours of the week that they would not normally be closing for because they are short staffed.”

With Utah national park visitation numbers peaking last year, the increase in tourism has led to record-breaking months in Moab since fall 2020, leaving businesses shorthanded. Although the area has lost out on some international spending from travel due to the pandemic, domestic revenue increases made up for that shortfall.

One measure of domestic spending in Moab, charges on Visa cards, went from $50 million in 2020 to $88 million — the highest it’s ever been, said Elaine Gizler, Grand County director of economic development and tourism.

“While it is getting better with vaccinations, COVID testing and quarantine practices/regulations have taken out several employees for long periods of time from already short staffed businesses,” Shumway wrote. “We have added new businesses and hotels at a faster rate than we have been able to bring people in to work. We simply don’t have as many people looking for work as we have job openings.”

Housing availability and affordability in the area have compounded the issue, along with changes in visa employment programs due to the pandemic, Shumway said.

“Every year we have a challenge, but this year is really much more difficult. Most of the businesses seem to be struggling,” Gizler said. “I think the lack of affordable housing all over the state, and here especially in Grand County, is such a huge problem that we have to try to find a way to deal with that in order to help all of our businesses around the state.”

To combat these issues, the Moab Chamber of Commerce has created a Community Action Committee to lead discussions with local business leaders and government representatives.

“We have certainly tried to reach out to be as supportive as we can. But the challenge is when you don’t have affordable housing for people to live anywhere, it makes it really difficult to attract workers,” Gizler said. “We’ve got people who are living in cars, tents [and] vans to work, but it’s a real issue, the lack of housing for workers.”