Some businesses still hiring, unemployment claims soar

Published 6:35 pm Friday, March 20, 2020

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It’s been a hard week for local businesses in Beaufort County.

From small retailers temporarily closing their doors to restaurants and bars having to lay off employees while they remain closed to the public, everyone is being asked to take drastic measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

While restaurants, small retailers and the hospitality industry are taking the largest hits, there are still a number of places hiring locally. For anyone who has lost their job or had hours cut, restrictions on unemployment insurance have been temporarily lifted to ensure laid off employees can stay afloat financially.


At the local Beaufort County N.C. Works Career Center, director Wes Watson says there has been a tremendous uptick in calls in the past few days, both from employers and employees. Effective Friday, Watson said the center has closed its doors to the public, but staff will continue to serve clients via phone and email.

“Just in regards to how the community is reacting, we’re seeing a heavy increase in foot traffic and in call volume, and people wondering how they’re going to deal with unemployment insurance,” Watson said. “We’re also seeing a dramatic increase in employer calls as well, with them trying to get a lot of help for their employees.”

The biggest impacts so far, Watson says, have been on the hospitality industry, restaurants and small retailers. As for the types of businesses hiring, he says that continues to evolve on a daily basis.

“Hotels, because people aren’t traveling, and also local restaurants, are having to look at reducing their employee counts just because there’s nobody visiting the establishments,” Watson said. “The bigger box stores, I haven’t fielded any calls from them, but it’s the smaller downtown businesses that we’ve seen a heavy uptick in call volume.”

N.C. Works counselors can be reached by phone at 252-940-0900 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, or by email at


It only took 48 hours after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced the closing dine-in services at restaurants and bars across the state for unemployment benefit requests in the state to jump to 18,000. The N.C. Department of Commerce’s employment Security division usually deals with 3,000 claims per week.

As of Friday, The North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Employment Security division was experiencing a high volume of phone calls. Those seeking to apply for unemployment benefits were encouraged to file for unemployment online at if possible.

“Realistically, if you find yourself with reduced hours or are looking at potentially being laid off, file for unemployment as quickly as possible,” Watson advised. “In addition to that, I would say, stay up to date on the latest conference calls and media releases.”

While restaurant and bar owners find themselves in the difficult position of having to temporarily lay off employees, other businesses, such as large retailers and some fast food restaurants are actively seeking new and temporary hires.


According to Food Lion Customer Service Manager Tori Sterrenberg, Food Lion is hiring companywide with positions available at four local stores in Washington, Belhaven and Chocowinity. Applicants can apply online at and then select the location where they are interested in applying.


According to a press release from the company on Thursday, Walmart is seeking to hire 150,000 more associates nationwide to keep up with a surge in demand sparked by the coronavirus. The company also plans to pay out bonuses of  $300 for full-time hourly associates and $150 for part-time hourly associates.

Walmart is also implementing a new process to dramatically expedite hiring for key roles, such as cashiers and stockers. What is usually a two-week application cycle will be reduced to a 24-hour process. Anyone interested in applying should do so at


A temp firm located in Washington, Professional Staffing Solutions owner Tamika Jenkins says her company has openings available in manufacturing, painting, carpentry and a number of other professions. To learn more, visit

“We have a full variety, we just need the people,” Jenkins said. “They can go online to our website, upload their resumes and take the online assessment. We usually call as soon as they apply, because we are in a dire.”