(Originally published on Oct. 8, 2021)By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The job market was red-hot this summer, but it’s cooling off significantly. Across the nation, there are around 11 million openings, including more than 1 million added in July alone.

However, the latest reports show that employers added just 194,000 jobs in September, far below expectations. Still, the unemployment rate has dropped from 5.2% to 4.8%.

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According to CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger, many jobs remain unfilled because workers don’t want to go back to their pre-pandemic jobs for the wages currently being offered.

This situation has local employers coming up with new incentives to attract workers.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before in my whole 30-year career with Punch Pizza and then Caribou Coffee before that,” said John Puckett, one of Punch Pizza’s owners. “We could sell twice as many pizzas as we’re selling today, much more than we could have seen pre-COVID, but for some reason…there are just not enough employees to meet our demand.”

In an effort to meet demand, Puckett is presenting a cash incentive to get people to work at Punch Pizza.

“We’re paying almost $20 an hour to start and now we are unveiling a new program of a $1,000 to start for all hourly employees, and we cannot find enough employees to meet the demand,” Puckett said.

Puckett needs employees immediately. The pandemic forced him to cut down hours in some of his restaurants and shut down three locations.

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“We’ve learned we don’t have enough employees to re-open those last three stores, two in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul,” Puckett said.

Punch Pizza is not alone in the struggle to find workers.

Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers is sending its corporate staff to chain locations across the country amid a staffing shortage of hourly workers. Employees will take over as cooks, cashiers and will help with recruitment.

Other local businesses, like World Street Kitchen, is almost fully staffed. At the Minneapolis restaurant, a 15% gratuity is added to each bill, with the money providing a competitive wage for employees.

Punch Pizza hopes its bonus pay will be enough to get to fully staffed in the near future.

In the first 12 hours of advertising that $1,000 bonus for hourly employees, 100 people applied at two different Punch Pizza locations.

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Reg Chapman