Minimum Wage Hike Means Little in Sevier County

Sevierville, Sevier County (WVLT) - The federal minimum wage is going up 70 cents to $5.85 an hour on Tuesday which could affect businesses and their prices, but it may not have such an impact in Sevier County.

Volunteer TV’s Stephen McLamb is in Sevierville to explain why.

There is a huge demand for labor here. So many businesses pay higher wages. But some here say it will start having an impact by 2009.

From the high tourists hirers like Gatlinburg, they hire many low skilled employees.

“What is the national federal minimum wage?” Stephen McLamb asks an Ober Gatlinburg employee.

“Seven dollars... is it?” says Heather Davidson.

“I don't know, 8 or 8.50?” says Chelsea McAlister, a cashier at Ripley’s.

But not for minimum wage, so a rise from $5.15 to $5.85 an hour isn't all that exciting.

“I'm kinda shocked and surprised actually that its that low,” says Erich Koehler at Ober Gatlinburg.

“Would you be willing to work for $5.85?” McLamb asks.

“No, I wouldn't,” Erich says.

“Our people start at $8.50 an hour and most get health insurance,” Ripley’s General Manager Ryan DeSear says. “So we’re a little bit insulated from the minimum wage requirements in general.”

DeSear says that's because in a small county with a large tourist population, higher wages helps get much needed workers. “Even at $8.50 an hour, it’s tremendously hard to find labor. We have a lot of competition with Dollywood in the area, all the dinner theaters.”

But some say when it hits $7.25 in 2009 the minimum wage will start having an impact.

“We will probably be going up by that time anyway just because of the competitive nature of getting employees in this county,” says Ober Gatlinburg Human Resources Director Jerry Huskey.

That could trickle down to the consumer.

“The more you have going out, the more you have to take in,” Huskey. “So we'll definitely have to look at raising prices although we have been very resist to that.”

DeSear says he believes Ripley’s will be able to handle the federal increases better. He says they can do that because of other benefits that they offer like health insurance.

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