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Recession impacts U.S. Midwest tent industry

Project Briefs | August 1, 2009 | By:

The recession and high unemployment mean that in the U.S. Midwest, there is a good-sized pool of potential employees, but that doesn’t ensure that tent rental companies can find people with the skills they need.

“Unfortunately, in Michigan right now we have a large pool of applicants to choose from, although most are not trained in our business,” says Sarah Larsen of Rentalex in Kalamazoo. “We have brought back almost the same crew we had last summer with only one to two new additions that were recommended to us.” To retain the delivery and setup crew members, Rentalex pays them an additional dollar for every hour worked if they stay through the entire season.

Tom Wodetzki of American Pavilion in Danville, Ill., tells a similar story.

“The county in which American Pavilion is located has the second highest unemployment in the state of Illinois,” he says. “While I can find general labor without a problem, people to lead installation crews still remain difficult to find.”

Larsen notes that corporate events are down but backyard weddings are booming, and a “natural” look has been a common theme with weddings this year.

While based in the Midwest, American Pavilion provides tent rental and event services nationwide, primarily for corporate and sporting events. Wodetzki notes a trend of corporate event planners waiting longer to place their orders.

“I believe that due to the uncertainty of how many people will attend a particular event, planners are waiting until they have a firm count on the number of attendees before they are willing to commit to a tent size and overall budget,” he says.

“The other trend that I am seeing is that weaker competitors are falling to the wayside or going out of business completely,” he adds. “I think this will continue until the economy moves out of this recession.”

The ever-changing weather in the Midwest is always a concern, requiring constant monitoring and, in the case of storms, extra trips to sites to ensure that stakes and ratchets have held, Larsen says.

“We also have a long winter, in which people will still need tents,” she says. “These we have to monitor even more closely as many do not carry snow loads. We must keep the tents heated and go push snow off in the winter months and make sure staking is still secure.”

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