Dot Bets on Post-COVID Rural Appeal, Pays Employees to Move | State and regional

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By JOHN O’CONNOR The Associated Press

MOUNT STERLING, Illinois (AP) – Dot Foods had a problem. In early 2020, COVID-19 put the brakes on six decades of almost constant hiring. When the pandemic abated and business picked up again last spring, the company found that potential employees, less willing to work, or at least warming up to do it from home, were failing to do so. not the tail like before.

You can’t work from your living room in your pajamas – Dot’s duties consist of a physical warehouse workforce, packing pallets with the specialized orders that the company’s customers need.

But the food redistributor giant, located in Mount Sterling, with a population of 1,900, is relying on the post-pandemic phenomenon that is attracting part of the workforce from the cities. But with her more reluctant traditionally local employment pool, Dot is looking further and further afield. That’s between $ 1,500 and $ 3,000 in moving costs if you pack your bags for western Illinois and a competitive salary at a company that boasts of never firing an employee in its 61 years. .

Dot Foods, still run by the family of founders Robert “RT” and Dorothy Tracy, follows part of the playbook for what some researchers call a “Zoom City” phenomenon, driven largely, but not entirely, by the work from home conditions imposed by the pandemic. Urban centers no longer dictate the geography of a job and some employees exchange endless trips and “Got a minute?” »Interruptions for more time at home and a slower, smaller lifestyle.

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“There had already been a dispersal of the population even before the pandemic, linked to the economic recovery after the Great Recession,” said William Frey, senior researcher in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. “But migration linked to the pandemic could open the door to new growth opportunities in small communities. “

To qualify for a refund, potential Dot employees must live at least 121 kilometers (75 miles) from Mount Sterling and travel within 72 kilometers (45 miles) of the city. A trip of up to 500 miles (805 kilometers) warrants a check for $ 1,500, an amount that gradually increases to $ 3,000 for anyone coming over 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).

Since launching in May, 40 of Dot’s 248 hires have been eligible for moving reimbursement. But there are still 150 openings, a combination of a revived economy and an admittedly high turnover in the warehouse. Physical labor isn’t for everyone, said Ashley Ferguson, personnel manager at Dot’s warehouse in Illinois.

Others find jobs with shorter journeys.

“Referrals have always been our number one source of applicants, but this year we were recruiting more…” said Ferguson. “We decided that we needed to have more strategies and different approaches to help people who might want to move to this area. “

It is far from a unique idea. The towns themselves have joined in the hunt in numbers that prompted Angie’s List pioneers last winter to launch MakeMyMove.com, which brings together locations in the United States that offer relocation incentives. How about $ 20,000 from Morgantown, West Virginia, $ 15,660 from Augusta, Maine, or $ 12,500 to call Newton, Iowa home?

“Not since the Industrial Revolution has we seen such a massive reorganization of the way people think about place …” said Evan Hock, co-founder and COO of MakeMyMove.

Instead of following jobs in cities, working remotely means working from anywhere, Hock said. But money also stimulates migration. Respondents to a MakeMyMove poll last summer indicated that their reluctance to take root – “moving is expensive and risky,” Hock said – fades when there is a monetary incentive.

“The same mechanisms that cause remote workers to travel would apply to any type of worker,” Hock said. “A lot of people are moving to find somewhere more affordable, some people want to be closer to amenities like the outdoors or have a lot of land.”

For Aimie Logan, it was a combination of things that brought her to Mount Sterling last spring, but one thing is for sure: she never dreamed of living outside of Chicago, where she had spent her entire life. ‘adult. Then, the pandemic forced the company where she worked to reduce her hours. Logan, 37, drawn to the west by a local friend and what looked like Dot’s friendly work environment, decided she was ready for a change. And she got it.

“I live in an old farm with a big yard and neighbors, you have to drive to their place, but it’s great. A welcoming city, ”Logan said during a break from one of his four 10-hour weekly shifts in the frozen food warehouse. “I never thought I would leave town. I liked the convenience. I liked the fast pace. Now I have a Dollar General and a gas station. I wouldn’t trade it for the world I am in now.

Mount Sterling Realtors can attest to this. Courtney Newton has received inquiries in recent months in Arizona, California and Florida. Lance Grady has received calls from the Dallas and St. Louis areas. Some are planning to be closer to their family, at least one has landed a job with Dot, another couple have new freedom to work remotely and are buying a hometown.

“The majority of those I work with don’t want to live in a busier neighborhood,” Newton said. “They want to live here because they like peace and quiet, a more rural theme, where everyone knows each other somehow.”

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