For Denise Burgess, the biggest challenge in running her construction-management firm isn't worrying about tax reform or what's ahead with the Affordable Care Act. It's simply finding the right people to do the job.
Burgess is president and CEO of Denver-based Burgess Services, a second-generation family-owned business that has been around for 42 years working on commercial projects. Typically, Burgess employs between 12 and 15 workers, but with subcontractors the company employs upward of 100 workers at one time, depending on the size of the project.
That's when things get complicated: With the recession having forced so many skilled laborers to leave the industry, finding the right people for the job has become a major challenge. According to the first-ever CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey in June, jobs and the economy was the No. 1 issue for 33 percent of the 2030 businesses surveyed.
"They're younger, not as trained, not as seasoned," Burgess said. "Construction is also a career path that's not as glamorous as Silicon Valley software — it's not Facebook. It's something where you're going to work hard, but you'll also get paid really well. It's a hard sell, but not an impossible sell."
Across the country, finding skilled labor is becoming an increasingly large concern for small businesses like Burgess', and even more of a challenge in cities like Denver, where the labor market is tight, with unemployment at 2.3 percent. According to the National Federation of Independent Business in its monthly read on Main Street sentiment, finding skilled labor ranked a top-three issue in June, behind government regulations and taxes.
Small-business advocacy groups, like the nonpartisan National Small Business Association, also see skilled labor becoming a more frequent concern among its membership. A recent survey from the group found that 76 percent of small businesses are doing on-site training for specific positions — a positive economic signal that small companies are looking to hire and potentially expand.
"Worker shortages are moving up on our list of priorities," said Todd McCracken, president of the NSBA. "It's one of the top concerns among small companies now, as it was before the financial crisis. It's really good news that companies are beginning to hire, but it is a real struggle for them."