There’s little denying that things are looking good for agriculture again in 2013. Having just spent the past few months on the road at many of the industry’s annual winter meetings and trades shows, the overall mood among ag retailers, equipment manufacturers, input suppliers and growers is extremely positive. If there’s a negative note out there, it’s the fact that some companies are already “sold out” of their products for the season because of strong demand by customers.
Of course, this has led to another industry negative, one that’s been around as long as I’ve covered the marketplace and surely dates back even further — a lack of manpower. Last spring while visiting with many equipment manufacturers across the Midwest, I was surprised to learn just how desperate some companies are for workers. As I pulled into many a parking lot for a visit, the greetings signs at these facilities often showed “Help Wanted” messages, asking for skilled welders and machinists. Indeed, many company representatives told me that they bought radio spots asking for workers across a 500-mile or better radius from their plants.
And this lack of labor is also affecting ag retailers. In our annual survey of the nation’s top dealerships and cooperatives, the ability to find/keep good employees always finishes in the top five reasons why companies can’t significantly grow their businesses. In many years, the ag retail market’s inability to find workers for its locations has ranked as the No. 1 impediment to achieving growth in a given year.
According to many experts, one of the reasons ag retailers (and other businesses) have had such a tough time finding workers ties back to the burst housing bubble. During the early 2000s, many consumers bought homes with reckless abandon. In many cases, these were purchased using interest-only and adjustable rate mortgages.
Unfortunately, when the housing bubble burst in 2008, many of these consumers found themselves “underwater” — owing more on their homes then these properties were now worth if sold. Consequently, this has kept many potential workers from being able to relocate to where a job might be waiting.
Until now, that is. According to Ag1Source’s Mark Waschek, some ag retailers have begun offering to help potential employees with “forgivable” loans to make up the difference of selling their homes at a loss, enabling them to move to where they are needed. “Each year of service is equivalent to the annual payment on a five-year note, and after five years, the loan is forgiven,” says Waschek. “This way, the worker earns a steady paycheck while the ag retailer gets an experienced employee to help grow its business.”
An old saying goes: “Home is where the heart is.” It’s nice to see that some ag retailers have taken this saying’s advice, stepping up to keep the American dream of home ownership alive while at the same time helping out their businesses in the process.