BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — They made it through the COVID pandemic, now, North Dakota business owners say they can’t find enough workers.

It’s a problem that’s been happening for years.

Staffing has already put some restaurants out of business and several more new eateries plan to open soon.

Mornings are hectic for Peggy Manley. She and her husband opened By the Batch Bakery on Broadway in Bismarck three years ago.

“I’m pleasantly surprised we’re still here,” Manley said.

The bakery turns out fresh bagels and caramel rolls daily. Penny says she is always looking for help but isn’t holding her breath.

“I’ve had to lower my criteria of hiring that if you walk through the door, you’re hired,” Manley said.

She’s only partly kidding. Manley, like many business owners, can’t seem to find help.

“It’s just mind-boggling. Where is everyone?” Manley asked.

“You can’t pass a restaurant these days without seeing a ‘now hiring’ sign,” Nathan Schneider said. Schneider is vice president of the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber EDC.

In the competitive world of dining, restaurants have tried everything but the kitchen sink, offering signing bonuses, higher starting pay, flexible hours, and some even paying workers daily.

“It’s tough when you’re not that new kid on the block to be that employer of choice,” Schneider said.

“There’s just not enough people to fill all of the open positions we have,” Amy Arenz said.

Arenz is the workforce center manager with Job Service North Dakota.

She says it’s not simply a matter of people skipping out on work.

North Dakota continues to hover around two percent unemployment.

“North Dakota has always been a hardworking state,” Arenz said. “We’re actually second in the nation for participation rate in the workforce. People used to work a lot of multiple jobs. And several aren’t doing that.”

Arenz says that’s coupled with a large round of retirements. Frustration continues for restaurant owners.

Four have had to close around Bismarck in the last year, staffing being one piece of the pie.

And eateries including Bearscat Bakehouse, Tavern Grill, Panda Express, and a drive-thru Caribou are among six new businesses planning to open before Thanksgiving.

“And these restaurants, they’re not bringing in new people to staff,” Schneider said. “They’re moving people from one restaurant to another restaurant.”

“That’s really hard. And it’s killing small business owners like myself. Bigger corporations can offer more,” Manley said.

The job market remains competitive, and unfortunately, Schneider says people can expect to see more restaurant casualties in a growing Bismarck-Mandan market.

North Dakota Job Service offers advice and tips for people who are looking for work, including a Workforce Wednesday Hiring Day, which happens on the first Wednesday of every month at its office in Bismarck.