• September 18, 2014

Sales surge: Local businesses see spike in hiring, revenue

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Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2014 4:30 am

Jim Januszka’s dreams became reality last year when he and his wife, Sara, opened Bite the Bagel Deli Café just around the block from their Harker Heights home.

The shop is a little slice of home for Januszka, a New Jersey native who needed only to round a street corner when he craved a bagel as a child.

“You’d find a bagel shop on every corner where I grew up,” Januszka said.

Bite the Bagel opened with five employees, only two of whom were full time. The Januszkas and their employees took all orders manually, hastily scribbling the customers’ requests on paper.

Now, 16 months later, the restaurant is regularly staffed with seven employees typing out orders for bagels, sandwiches, salads, soups, fresh cream cheese flavors, Austin-roasted coffee, muffins and more on Bite the Bagel’s new computer system. A 35 percent increase in sales prompted the hiring of additional staff and the shift to electronic ordering, Januska said.

“Everything prints into the respective kitchen, so if you’re making a breakfast sandwich, you don’t have to sort through 10 different items,”

he said. “We’ve gotten a lot busier, and it’s definitely made us more efficient.”

The number of employees increases to 10 on weekends, and Januszka said he is still looking to hire more. Bite the Bagel’s sales already reached the numbers Januszka projected for the three-year mark, and he and Sara hope to open a second restaurant in Killeen within a year.

Bite the Bagel’s success story fits a national narrative of a flood of new hires among small businesses. According to a report from the Associated Press, owners who resisted hiring after the recession began stepping up their pace in the spring to meet rising demand for products and services.

As recently as March, an American Express survey found 76 percent of owners planned to hire only when their revenue rose.

The ripple effect from growth in construction and consumer spending are feeding the increase, said Susan Woodward, an economist who helps software maker Intuit compile its hiring surveys.

Januszka said the hiring and revenue surge has occurred just in the last four months.

“You can see all the construction around here. The whole area is growing,” Januszka said. “As the area grows, there are more choices for people here.”

‘Furloughs and frustrations’

Just six months ago, “furloughs and frustration” was the prevailing theme among Central Texas consumers.

Now, the mood has changed. Monica Hull, director of business development for Copperas Cove’s Economic Development Corporation, said shoppers in the greater Killeen-Fort Hood area are no longer clutching their checkbooks.

“I think people are just more hopeful,” Hull said. “Before, a lot of folks were holding on to their plans and to their pocketbooks — everybody was concerned about what was happening in the future.

“But with the economy picking up in the last six months — homes are being built, businesses are being built — that provides people who are thinking of expanding their business with a bit more confidence.”

Much like its neighboring cities, Copperas Cove also is seeing a growth in population. Jackie Duncan, owner of OutPost Texas off East U.S. Highway 190, said she has seen more and more new faces since opening her shop in the summer of 2012.

“Cove is definitely growing,” Duncan said. “I’m always getting new customers, and I’m getting more repeat customers, which is always a good thing.”

Cara Bove, director of investor services at the greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, said she has noticed more small businesses popping up recently — a trend she attributed to soldiers who decide to plant their post-Army roots in Central Texas by opening businesses. And the decisions, Bove said, are not spontaneous.

“(Soldiers) are coming to us with a plan and saying, ‘We’re getting out in five years. We’re just trying to do our due diligence now,’” said Bove, whose husband is stationed at Fort Hood. “My husband and I have noticed that a lot of people come off Fort Hood and stay, which surprised us, because we’ve been at a couple of different posts and didn’t see that. Here, everyone seems to come off post and stick around.”

Small business success continues

Wayne Huddleston, economic development specialist at the Fort Worth office of the U.S. Special Business Administration, said that while SBA lending numbers in Bell County have seen a slight decrease from last year, the figures are not reliable indicators of the area’s financial shape.

Through the third quarter of this fiscal year, the SBA has guaranteed 13 loans in Bell County totaling $4.1 million, Huddleston said. Through the third quarter of last fiscal year, the SBA guaranteed 24 loans in Bell County for a total of $16.8 million.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is less lending activity to small businesses in Bell County, or that there is less activity or growth,” Huddleston said. “It could simply mean that lenders in Bell County have enough business that they don’t feel the need to utilize an SBA guarantee.”

Recent employment statistics from the Bureau of Labor, however, indicate that employment is on the rise in the Killeen/Fort Hood area, Huddleston said.

“I believe employment may be a truer indicator of economic growth in this instance,” he said.

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