Carlsbad restaurants struggle to hire, retain employees

New Mexico News

Southeastern New Mexico is facing a unique problem: In an area where the oilfields are booming, there aren’t enough places to eat.

The other problem is finding people who will take a minimum wage working there, when the oil companies pay so much more.

“You have to wait a long time whenever you order anything, half the time you get what you want,” said Eric Elizondo.

Residents say restaurants are overcrowded and there aren’t enough employees.

“This town can support a lot more restaurants, but they can’t staff them,” said Kevin Quintana.

The issue: Why would people want to work for minimum wage when the oil fields pay a lot more?

“For instance, some of these fast food restaurants are paying $12 and $14 an hour to try to keep help. Some of them close early. Blake’s Lotaburger closes at 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” said Quintana.

Blake’s isn’t alone. Many restaurants have altered their hours, Sonic now closes some of its stalls to reduce orders, and outside Arby’s sits a sign that reads ‘negotiate your pay.’

McAlister’s Deli is also one of many places feeling the unexpected effects of the booming oil industry. The restaurant says retaining employees is just as tough as hiring them.

“Carlsbad is by far the hardest to staff, with the oilfield and as well as all the service companies that service the oilfield. There’s a lot of money there and so it becomes a real challenge,” said Regional Manager Patrick Ortega.

“The oilfield is a good industry…brings a lot of jobs to the community, but it’s also a competitive factor with other people and other jobs,” said Carlsbad City Councilor JJ Chavez.

Chavez says some restaurant chains are hesitant to come here because of the issue. He says they’re working on combating that, hoping to bring more housing developments in soon to give some of those workers permanent places to live to and build the regular population.

“We’re developing, and we’re working on our problems as we go. It’s a good problem to have,” said Chavez.

Another reason some chains are hesitant to build there is because the population isn’t big enough.

The Department of Development estimates the population of Carlsbad is about 75,000. Some of those bigger restaurant chains require at least 100,000 residents.

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