Spring is the busiest time of the year for local garden stores and home improvement retailers and some are ramping up hiring but are struggling to fill jobs.

Donna Jezorwski, owner of Bloomin’ Idiots Floral Garden Center in Old Forge, said she is trying to hire five or six people but she is having a tough time filling the positions. Despite a high unemployment rate, she said it has been “hard to find people.”

Bloomin’ Idiots Floral Garden Center recently announced on its Facebook page that it has immediate job openings in various positions including indoor and outdoor customer service, cashiers, plant care and yard workers.

Jezorwski said the pay for the open positions is based on experience and skill level. Interested candidates can stop in the business to apply or send a message through the business’ Facebook page, she said.

Last year, Jezorwski said she was forced to shut down her garden center during the pandemic from mid-March through late June while Home Depot and Lowe’s remained open.

She expects this spring will be busy for her business, however, and she’s already receiving inquiries about hanging flower baskets. Easter, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day are busy times for flower sales, she said.

“From what I’m seeing, I think we’re going to have a good spring with a lot of foot traffic,” she said.

Like other business owners throughout Northeast Pennsylvania, Jerzorwski said she believes she can’t fill jobs is because state officials have made unemployment benefits “very attractive.”

Teri Ooms, executive director of the Institute of Public Policy and Economic Development at Wilkes University, said she has heard other employers blaming unemployment benefits as the reason they can’t fill jobs and she believes the system is responsible for a “portion of their recruiting difficulty.”

Employers who offer people work and they refuse can report them to the state Department of Labor & Industry which would cease their unemployment benefits, she said.

Ooms said while the system isn’t foolproof and she believes it accounts for some of the problem, the major issue affecting the workforce is demographics.

The U.S. has more older people than younger people so as more people retire from the workforce, she said there are fewer people behind them to fill jobs.

“This phenomenon is anticipated to be in effect for the next two decades unless there is a dramatic increase in population,” Ooms said.

The COVID-19 pandemic also brought additional challenges for parents because their children still may not be in school and they may need to stay home and watch them, Ooms said. People also may need to care for elderly family members or they may be afraid to work if they are high-risk.

“COVID also exacerbated barriers such as lack of transportation and affordable, quality day care so all these reasons combined have contributed to an ongoing labor shortage,” Ooms said.

At the same time that local garden centers have been trying to hire, home improvement retail giants Home Depot and Lowe’s have been looking to hire hundreds of workers in the region for their busiest season: spring.

Lowe’s is hiring more than 200 associates for its four stores in Northeast Pennsylvania for spring, said Lowe’s spokesman Steve Salazar. Stores are located in Wilkes-Barre Twp., Edwardsville, Scranton and West Hazleton.

Lowe’s has been filling seasonal roles as well as permanent full-time and part-time positions. Available positions include operation supervisors and there are openings in merchandising, pro services, lawn and garden, plumbing and sales teams.

Salazar said the pay for Lowe’s associates is “competitive” and includes health benefits. Employees also are eligible for profit-sharing bonuses, which were paid in all Lowe’s stores in the U.S. in every quarter last year, he said.

Lowe’s distribution center in Jenkins Twp. is hiring about 80 associates for day, night and weekend shifts and it is filling full-time and part-time roles, Salazar said.

He said these associates also receive “competitive” pay and regular pay increases. Additionally, there is a sign-on bonus of $500 after 30 days.

Home Depot plans to hire for more than 450 positions this spring in the region, said Home Depot spokeswoman Margaret Smith.

The home improvement retailer has stores in Wilkes-Barre and Dickson City and a distribution center in Pittston Twp.

Smith said the number of workers hired for spring nationwide will be similar to the amount hired previously during the spring. Last year, Home Depot announced it would hire about 80,000 associates for its busiest season of the year.