Man 'Panhandles' for Employees on Street Corner, Gets a Flood of Applications

Courtesy Lance Forsee

Lance Forsee was having trouble finding employees for his Central Washington landscaping company so he decided to think outside the box.

Forsee, who runs Colonial Lawn and Garden in Yakima, said traditional recruitment methods had failed. He's in peak season now and needs quality employees.

"In our community there's been several panhandlers working the area for quite some time with their cardboard signs - you know the typical 'will work for food, a dollar, everything helps,' he said in a Thursday interview with ABC News. "So we thought 'hmm, why don't we play off that?"

Forsee, 53, decided to break out his own cardboard sign.

"Desperate business owner will give $ and benefits to outstanding workers!" his message read. "Every employee helps. God bless!"

While some people were "conditioned" to stare right past his sign and so missed the message, many others read and appreciated it.

"Several people would pull over. Some would have resumes in hand," he said.

Standing at a busy intersection - the corner of 40th and Summitview avenues - he displayed his sign three times. On his third outing on Wednesday, KIMA-TV featured a story about his efforts. The response was startling.

"We're overwhelmed now with applicants," Forsee said. "We're swamped. I mean people are coming in. We've got hundreds, probably more than 200, since 11 o'clock (Wednesday)."

He estimates that he'd only had 12 applications for his first two attempts.

"It's crazy," he said of the reaction.

Comments on Facebook were largely supportive.

"Lol I applied an hour ago after I saw this guy," wrote poster Ty Leist.

Lori Van Emmerik wrote: "WE need more employers out there like this guy!"

Added Angela Cruz Garza: "I'm sure it was the sign somebody needed. God bless him."

The starting salary for someone without experience is $10 an hour, Forsee said. That's higher than the state minimum of $9.32, and far above the federal minimum of $7.25.

Forsee said the hourly pay goes up to at least $12 for someone with experience. The average $12 per hour worker who'd been employed for a year or more received more than $5.50 per hour in benefits, including health insurance, paid holidays and paid vacation, Forsee said.

"A $12 an hour person is really making the equivalency of more than $17, which in my area, you know that sounds low, but it's above average," he said.

Asked why he believed he was having difficulty finding employees in such a challenging economy, he cited as one possible reason the seasonal nature of his business. Most employees work nine months out of every year.

"We pay benefits. But most of my employees that are laid off for three months come back every year. It's kind of - they're used to it," he said, while acknowledging that it wouldn't appeal to everyone.

He also said young people-twenty- and thirty-somethings-seemed to be disinterested in physical labor, adding that three of his top-producing workers were his age.

He also mentioned his company's hiring requirements.

"We're drug-free, we drug screen, we ask for a valid driver's license, you must speak, we ask that people - we don't care what nationality, but you have to speak in English, high school level, and communicate in English at a high school level, so I think some of those things screen out a lot right there off the bat," he said.

He stressed that the positions he advertised weren't just jobs, but had the potential for growth to management and sales positions within the company.

"There's jobs, you've just got to want them …," he said, adding that his company had good people but needed more. "We can't grow because … we're not fully staffed."

Forsee only needs to fill six positions - and will make hiring decisions next week - but he doesn't want the other applicants' efforts to be in vain.

He said fellow contracts have also had a hard time finding workers, so he'd like to help them and those other applicants who won't be hired by him.

"I want to find a way to help. I don't want all these qualified people … to just waste their time. I want to help," he said. "If there's a way that I can help connect them with others I will."

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