Editor's note: This story was originally published in March.

The economic restrictions imposed over the past two weeks to limit the spread of COVID-19 have idled many businesses and quickly plunged thousands into the ranks of the jobless.

But despite the eerie calm around much of Lancaster County, there continues to be a lot of work that needs to be done, and a lot of people continue to be needed to do it.

In some cases, the businesses that remain in operation are finding themselves busier than ever.

“There are a lot of companies that are still hiring,” said Adam Kidan, president of Empire Workforce Solutions, a staffing firm with an office in Lancaster city.

Kidan said food manufacturers and distribution centers, still operating because they are on the state's list of life-sustaining businesses, are among those most in need of workers, noting his firm recently placed 60 people at one York food manufacturer.

In Lancaster County, some supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies have announced plans to add hundreds of workers to handle a burst of demand.

And while fears about being exposed to the new coronavirus are keeping some potential new hires at home, many others are eager to get going. 

“We’ve had a ton of applications,” he said. “Some segment of the population can sit at home and wait for the jobs to come back, but many can’t afford to do that.”

Several prominent employers here aren't sitting back either.

They're making their workplaces more enticing, as a way of wooing new hires and retaining existing workers. Weis, Sheetz and Amazon are among the firms to increase hourly pay while CVS is offering bonuses. (See related story at lower right for details.)

Stocking shelves

Faced with some overwhelming demand for food and supplies, grocery stores have been among the businesses heavily recruiting new workers.

"We had a need before the current situation. The recent demand surge has increased our needs," said Dennis Curtin, spokesman for Weis Markets.

In East Earl Township, Shady Maple has shifted 50 employees from its smorgasbord, which has closed temporarily, to its supermarket which normally operates with 350 employees.

The newly assigned employees are performing all kinds of tasks, including stocking shelves, running cash registers and making some of the prepared foods, such as doughnuts, coleslaw and macaroni salad, which Shady Maple sells at its store.

Lin Weaver, co-CEO and president of Shady Maple, said staffing levels were being evaluated on a week to week or even a day to day basis as the store can suddenly become busy.

“This is really unprecedented. It’s hard to predict,” Weaver said, noting that last Tuesday and Wednesday were relatively calm, following a week that he said “was so busy we couldn’t even think straight.”

Meeting the demand

Striving to connect abruptly laidoff workers to suddenly swamped businesses is Lancaster County CareerLink, which is funded by the United Way of Lancaster County as well as the state and federal government.

Literally overnight, the local CareerLink put together a remotely operated call center to serve as a bridge between those workers and those employers. It began operating Friday, March 20.

The impetus came from the Lancaster County Commissioners, who saw thousands of local workers idled by Gov. Tom Wolf’s order to close non-life-sustaining businesses at the same time that life-sustaining businesses were scrambling to ramp up enough to meet a spike in demand.

Last week, the website listed 51 companies that are actively hiring, including grocery stores, hardware stores, food distributors, manufacturers and retirement communities.

CareerLink Site Administrator Judy Wechter said the emphasis of the new call center is to match workers who are temporarily out of work, until their regular employers are revived, with other firms that need extra workers to meet a temporary surge in demand.

Individuals seeking temp jobs can call 1-844-744-8451; businesses that have immediate needs for temp workers can call 717-584-4932. (Permanent jobs and workers can be found these ways as well.) More information about the call center and a list of employers seeking workers is online at jobs4lancaster.com.

Biding their time

While there’s work to be done, some companies that need help are leery about possible economic incentives people may have to stay home, which are in addition to health concerns about venturing out.

Phil Weaver, Lin Weaver’s brother and co-CEO of Shady Maple, said that while the influx of smorgasbord workers “has been a real blessing in these busier times,” there could be a looming problem if unemployment compensation becomes so generous that laid-off workers opt to stay home.

Blake Dudek, chief operating officer of The Jay Group, says that while the logistics firm recently hired 15 people and continues to add more, other could-be workers may be considering their options for unemployment compensation.

“Some people may be playing a wait and see to see what the government is doing,” he said.

Yet with meal kits, toilet paper and children’s games among the products shipped out from the two Jay Group facilities in West Hempfield Township, Dudek says he expects demand to stay strong, as the essential nature of the work becomes more apparent.

“Every package that’s shipped is one trip that doesn’t have to happen,” he said. “The job we’re doing is helping to facilitate people staying in their homes during this period.”