The growing community of Gillette in northeast Wyoming hopes to tap a mobile national pool of active RV enthusiasts to help solve its shortage of workers in the service sector.
Ruth Benson, executive director of the Campbell County Economic Development Corp., recently outlined a plan whereby as many as 100 full-service campsites would be made available for $12 a day in the community’s CAM-PLEX park for RVers who come to fill temporary jobs in local restaurants and other retail service businesses. The jobs would be available from approximately May 1 to Sept. 1.
The problem in a nutshell: The area’s employment base has been negatively affected by workers leaving the service sector for higher-paying jobs in the mineral and mining industry. That, according to Benson, is the reason that four restaurants in this city of 26,000 have closed in recent weeks and others have cut back on their hours.
“Retail and hospitality are taking a dive because they aren’t able to pay top wages,” she told RV Business. The county’s unemployment rate was last measured at 1.7%.
Gillette is at the center of “an extreme growth phase” due to the coal, oil and natural gas boom, which isn’t expected to let up for at least a decade, she said. The county’s surface mines yield a low-sulfur, high-BTU coal that represents 35% of the nation’s coal and is used to generate one-third of its electricity. As a result, Benson’s agency’s main thrust has evolved from recruiting businesses to recruiting a work force.
She said the service industry jobs may be attractive to full-time RVers who wish to spend the summer in Gillette working. Fast-food openings start at $9.50 an hour and positions at Wal-Mart for people with no experience run from $9.75 an hour up to $13 an hour, she said. “Our past experience with RVers is that many are very lively, possessing a good work ethic, loyal and good citizens,” she said. “We feel it could be a major win-win situation for all of us.”
A former tourism director, Benson appealed to the town’s city council for funding to help attract the RVers to the area, located near the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower. Her proposal included attending the Quartzsite RV Show in Quartzsite, Ariz., in January to promote the service job openings. She said her agency will still go forward with the plan, even if the council doesn’t provide her funding, but would have to cut back on marketing materials.
The council said it would support a marketing plan if private business gets behind the plan and provides funding, too, she said.
She has reserved 100 of the 1,761 camping sites in CAM-PLEX, a world-class city/county-owned park, for the summer season. “If we get 30% of those for the summer, we would be happy,” she added.
Due to a severe housing shortage, the city’s two private campgrounds, with approximately 150 sites total, are already booked for the year and have long waiting lists, she noted. In fact, governmental authorities have relaxed some regulations for workers who wish to camp at their job sites.