Midland business owners share struggles with labor and material shortages

Panelists discuss challenges during state of business community lunch hosted by Midland Business Alliance

Photo of Andrew Mullin

Labor and material shortages were hot topics during this week's Midland Business Alliance’s State of the Business Community lunch.

The Midland area business community gathered on Wednesday at the Dow Diamond for the first Midland business address since fall of 2019, said MBA President & Chief Executive Officer Tony Stamas. Small and big business owners spoke about challenges and successes during the pandemic, along with future business plans.

“It is a chance to highlight small businesses and large businesses (on) who they are, what they're doing, what their future opportunities are, and what their challenges are,” Stamas said. “We find there's a lot of commonality amongst businesses as well.”

There were two panels at the event, with small business owners making up one panel and the big business owners making up the other. The owners took turn describing how their businesses operate and what they provide.

In the small business panel, Hannah Merillat, owner of Three Diamonds Bridal Boutique in Sanford, said her business specializes in unique and size-inclusive bridal wear. Here business has been successful in the short time the boutique has been open, she said.

Steve Persyn, site leader at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), spoke about the company’s short history, having formed recently after the split of Dow and DuPont. The company produces products related to nutrition to bio sciences, with most products made in the pharmaceutical and nourishment industry.

While large and small businesses work at different scales, there are issues affecting them both.

Labor shortage

Chris Rishko, chief executive officer of Great Lakes Bay Michigan Works!, gave a presentation on why unemployed people are not working, based on a survey they conducted over the summer. Unemployment checks are the not the primary answer, with less than 10% who said they are waiting for unemployment checks.

One of the most common reasons for people not working was because they are waiting to get a job similar to the one they lost at the start of the pandemic. Other responses included not getting call-backs for jobs or wanting flexible hours.

Daniel Buzzell, co-owner of Ace Hardware & Sports, Inc. in Midland, said he is not too far down in staff, but hiring people can still be challenging. He recently interviewed five potential candidates, but only one of them got back to be hired.

Some of the company owners said they have offered flexible hours during the pandemic. Rebecca Cox, president of the Savant Group, said the company implemented flexible work schedules to success.

“That is something we never thought possible at a group of companies that are high production-oriented and highly interdependent,” Cox said. “We thought that would just be a nightmare.

"During the pandemic we got creative and we introduced a lot of flexibility for the employees, and that has been the No. 1 thing that they have appreciated.”

Material shortages

Another common theme of the lunch was material and product shortages, something even larger companies like IFF are not exempt from. Persyn said a freeze event in the Middle East and hurricanes this year have led to shortages of raw materials the company uses.

Buzzell said he is worried about the Christmas shopping season because of delays in shipping and production due to national staffing shortages.

“We do pretty good business with (Christmas) lights and we order all that stuff usually in February for the following year,” Buzzell said. “Even with that kind of lead time on those orders, (the supplier) is saying to only expect about 90% of what we ordered.”