Where will new stores find workers?

There is a lot of discussion about the economics of two grocery stores, but there is a disturbing lack of discussion at the village board level about how they will fill these stores with employees. The last reported unemployment rate for Dane County was 2 percent, in economics this is firmly what would be considered “full employment” – in plain English, everyone has a job that is seeking a job, statistically speaking, and would need strong incentives to change jobs.

It is no secret that Waunakee lacks housing that would cater to most employees of these stores, and they are entering a market space of similarly paying jobs that are already struggling to find employees or keep employees in Waunakee that cannot afford to live here. Both grocery stores will most likely need 250-300 employees each (based on their numbers), so conservatively we are talking about 500 jobs from a community where over 85 percent of the working population already commutes out of the village. Any housing that would be affordable to these employees would most likely not be built until years after either grocery store opened.

The village also lacks mass transit options that would be needed to support the work force we would need to import in to support these types of businesses. Using ride sharing services, as one trustee suggested during the last election, would require an employee to pay $30/day (and that’s on the low end of the estimate). Neither grocery store has indicated how they will resolve this issue, aside from indicating they will be “competitive” versus we can only assume the existing grocery store in the village. Compare this to Festival’s Madison location which has a bus stop in front of the store, and Hy-Vee’s various stores in the Madison area all have bus stops at their stores.

We do need a new grocery store, but we need to face the realities of the limits of our community that our city planners have created with their decisions over the past decade. Our current government appears to be unwilling to have this difficult conversation with the public, instead taking a hands-off approach with these developers and calling it a “win.” Without a way to support these types of larger employers, through housing choices, mass transit, and other support services, the village only stands to “lose.”

Robert McPherson

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