Low unemployment drives up wages for TradeWinds employees

The general manager of the TradeWinds Island Resorts, Pinellas county's largest hotel property, is unapologetic about a strategic decision to increase pay in an effort to attract potential employees.

"I think it probably is the start of a wage war," Keith Overton told FOX 13 News. "We're choosing to pay more.  No job in our company will pay less than $10 an hour now." 

The increased wages are a result of low unemployment and an increased need for skilled workers. and the TradeWinds is deliberately targeting experienced applicants.  

"We have signing bonuses available, up to $2,000 if you have experience directly in our field, and up to $1,000 if you have experience in a similar job," Overton said, "Hopefully we will be able to get people who are already employed to come and work for us because it seems like the people that are unemployed are unemployable."

Pinellas County Economic Development Director, Mike Meidel predicted the resorts initiative will "...have a ripple affect throughout the economy, especially when we're so near full employment." 

The county's current unemployment rate is 4.6 percent, and some of the skill sets the TradeWinds seeks are found outside the hospitality industry. 

"Traditionally the entry level hospital workers will be looking at that as well" Meidel speculated, "It's a chance to take some out of the construction trade to go into hospitality too." 

FOX 13 News reported labor shortages in restaurants and construction, which has now spread to the hospitality industry. 

Meidel added, "It's very hard to find workers for registered nurses, for any kind of IT [information technology]."

Overton said the TradeWinds payroll will be $2.6 million higher in 2016, compared to this year, because of higher wages it plans to pay. That does not include the cost of a major "help wanted" advertising campaign that includes radio, newspaper and television commercials and a job fair in mid-January

That augments the predictable word-of-mouth phenomenon. 

"A lot of them [hotel workers] ride the bus together" housekeeper Sycoya Sanders told FOX 13 News, and co-worker Rosa Everest said "I have two people that are coming to look for application." 

Overton has a lot more positions than that to fill. 

"We'll be hiring at least 100, and with part-timers, probably get up to around 150, 200 employees" he said, and the plan is to fill those slots as soon as possible. 

The pay of more than 400 current hourly employees will also be adjusted upward at the first of the year.  

The general manager said record-high demand for Pinellas beachfront accommodations is fueling record high room rates - as much as $500 to $600 a night. At that price point, guests expect excellent service. 

"It's our number problem in our business today" he said, "We can't get enough employees and we can't get enough quality employees."