Local business leader talks navigating labor shortages, housing and transportation solutions

A local business leader’s experiences suggest accessing diverse labor sources may be the key to curbing labor shortages in Warren County. 

Chris Barden, the Chief Operating Officer of North Country Janitorial, said the company is just over double in size compared to the start of his tenure ten years ago. 

“It’s only in the last two years that I’d say it’s gotten easier,” Chris said. “We made a decision to pivot towards diversity, and it was a game changer for us because it’s opened up a pool of labor that I never had access to before.” 

“Getting revenue is much easier than finding good employees that will stick and stay. So, by default, which one should you spend more effort and energy and time on? But we’ve got to get creative,” Chris said. 

“We still have our struggles, but I’ve been able to bring on about twenty people, all Spanish-speaking for the most part. Very few of them speak English, but lacking any infrastructure here — which is not a criticism by any means — we’re starting to put effort into it. I’ve had to create my own and it’s an equal parts trial, equal parts error…It’s been figuring some stuff out on the fly,” Chris said.  

Hiring a bilingual manager two years ago has “opened the door to other opportunities and possibilities,” Chris said, although he is working on learning basic Spanish himself. “I’m wishing I took less French.” 

For Chris, creating infrastructure to support employees has included forming relationships with local landlords and property owners and renting an apartment for employee housing. In some cases, Chris said he subsidizes rent payments to increase the appeal and affordability of working for North Country Janitorial, especially when recruiting people based in Albany. He also emphasizes to potential employees that he can offer them full-time, year-round work.  

“Trying to figure some of this out, lacking any…transportation hubs, which I’m sure will come eventually, but lacking that we have to kind of create our own and be creative,” Chris said. Creativity has led North Country Janitorial to use the ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to transport employees — based in as far as Albany — to and from work. Chris added the company also bought a minivan to combat transportation challenges. 

“It’s been an education. It’s been eye opening,” said Chris. “I’ve done it for 30 years now, managing people and organizations. It’s been a refreshing kind of pivot and change that’s opened my eyes and made me think, ‘Geez, why didn’t we do this sooner?'” 

“I have people that are eager to work, that are appreciative to have a job, and I pay them very well, but they’re bugging me for more work, not bugging me for ways to get out of work, and that’s refreshing,” Chris said. “It’s a strange dynamic, but it’s wonderful.”