River Cinemas Shows Strong Employee Retention and Satisfaction Amid Tight Job Market – Grand Forex Herald

EAST GRAND FORKS – While many companies have struggled to hire and retain them in the wake of the COVID pandemic, River Cinema in East Grand Forks has seen the opposite – an abundance of motivated young employees.

For Roxy Honkola, who first worked at River Cinema from 2011-2014, returning in 2018 after a four-year hiatus, working in theater is a family affair.

“My grandfather built this place,” Honkola said. “I moved here right out of high school, and theater seemed like a fun place to work. My brother worked here before me and I really liked it, so I was excited to give it a try.”

Owner Penny Stay, who took over the company from her parents in 2020, mainly employs teen and college workers. Hiring young employees is a fairly typical trend in the movie theater industry, Stay said, and praises their work ethic.

“Most of the employees who work for me are between the ages of 16 and 24,” Stay said. “I very much enjoy working with a younger age group. They are hard workers – accountable and dependable. Many of them will eagerly volunteer to cover shifts when their co-workers can’t come.”

Honkola appreciates the flexibility Stay offers its employees, now that it has a family of its own.

“Penny lets you come in and tell her your schedule, and then she works with you around it,” Honkola said. “I have a daughter, and she’s very adjusting to not having me schedule nights and weekends. I used to be a bartender, and that kind of schedule would be impossible as a bartender.”

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(LR) River Cinema employees Jace Kasprowicz, Damien Moore, Mila Evenson-Perez, Harley Culpo, Savannah Schiffer and Grayson Cosnia take a break for a photo on Thursday, January 5, 2023 in East Grand Forks.

Eric Hilden/Grand Forex Herald

Stay understands the importance of having a dedicated and hardworking team in today’s job market.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Grand Forks County’s unemployment rate for November, the most recent month for the data, was 1.6%, more than 2% below the national average of 3.7%. Having such a low unemployment rate can make it difficult for employers to attract and retain employees. Ste says this is something she didn’t have to worry about.

“When COVID hit, a lot of companies laid off employees. We kept all of our employees when we reopened,” Stay said.

This tight job market is good for the area’s youth, said Barry Welfart, President and CEO of the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce.

“Growing up, finding a job as a high school student was very competitive,” said Welfart. “Today, the market is 180 degrees different. Our metropolitan area has one of the five lowest unemployment rates in the United States, so young workers have many job opportunities. I also believe that the current market forces employers to adjust to their schedules, which is important for young workers who balance among other obligations such as school.”

Stay attributes its ability to attract and retain employees to offering benefits and flexible schedules.

“We offer our full-time employees paid time off, half meals on their workdays, and free movie tickets for themselves and one guest,” Stay said. “We can also work around their school schedules by offering night and weekend shifts. I think the positive work environment speaks for itself – most of my employees stay at least three to four years.”

Stay also said that its existing employees are also a good resource for recruiting and hiring new employees.

“The majority of my new hires are referrals from existing employees—friends, family, and roommates,” said Stay.

In terms of the theater’s continued growth, Stay says each year since the onset of the pandemic has been stronger than the last, and she expects attendance to rebound to pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

“A lot of the reasons we’re late getting back to the 2019 numbers has to do with the film production backlog,” said Stay. “Instead of the usual 90 major releases, we’ve got about 36. There’s a lot of animation components backlogged. We’re hoping for more new releases in 2023, hopefully with pre-pandemic numbers coming in by the end of 2024.”

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