Jobs are plentiful on Hilton Head Island, the problem is finding people to fill them.
For businesses like The Greenery, costs are growing like the weeds they cut down every day.
The landscaping company employs 650 people, and covers hundreds of acres in Savannah, Bluffton and Hilton Head.
But as the work has gotten bigger for the Greenery, their workforce is getting smaller.
“We used to have when you got into work 2-3 guys waiting outside looking for a job. explains Lee Edwards. “The next day if you didnt have one they would be out there again. Those days are long gone.”
“(now) We have to pay people more to work on Hilton Head than in Hardeeville, Bluffton or Savannah,” Lee Edwards/CEO, The Greenery
Lee Edwards, Chief Executive Officer for The Greenery, says the Hilton Head staff gets $2.00 more an hour. Why? because they have to to get folks to work there. The quality of hires has also gone down.
“Pushing a mower is not rocket science but there’s a right way to do it and a not right way to do it,” explains Edwards. “there’s an efficient way to do it and a not very efficient way to do it”
More than 70% of the Hilton Head landscapers live someplace else.
To make it affordable, and worth their time and money, the company has even bought vans and trucks to get staff to the island, and to work on time.
“A lot of times these vans are coming from a long way out,” explains Edwards. “Allendale, Estill, Fairfax, Ridgeland, Walterboro.”
The Greenery spent $1 million in fuel costs alone last year. Travel vans and trucks for supervisors making up several hundred thousand of that. The amount of money spent on salaries has gone up 15% in the last two years. They’ve even bought a home for their interns to live in on the Island, or else no one would come, even to learn. It would cost too much.
Edwards says he’s has had qualified people turn down jobs because of the commute, and lack of Hilton Head housing.
He believes Its the homeowners who are digging their own hole..
“The owner of that house realizes hey, Instead of collecting $1500 a month from these three guys paying long term rent i can put in a pool i can rent it on VRBO, Air b and b and make $3000-$4000 a month,” says Edwards.
“Now that house it needs a pool person, it needs a landscaper, a housekeeper. So instead of being a hosue that provided housing for people that serve the community it demands service from the community. and thats happend thousands of times all over the island.”
The Greenery’s stock option program is helping keep qualified workers. As is the enmployee referral fee. bring in someone who stays for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days or more.. and the amount you get for bringing them in, goes up.
But the company is still 50 employees short, and more leave every day if it means a dollar or two more an hour, or a shorter ride home.
“If someone lives in Ridgeland and can work in Palmetto Bluff, theyd rather do that than drive all the way to Hilton Head. Shaves 30 minutes off their commute.” says Edwards.
To cover those costs, prices have to go up, but not as fast as the salaries have to.
“If we raised our price 15% across the board we’d lose tons of people, or upset tons and people but you have to keep it in check, and thats tough.”