Hiring and training seasonal employees is a perennial problem for companies that must staff up when business peaks. But at $5-million Gooseberry Patch, a Delaware, Ohio, catalog company, and $1-million Millcreek Gardens, a nearby wholesale nursery, the workers came up with a solution.

Four years ago Barb Agne devised her own strategy for staying employed year-round. In the fall and winter she packed boxes in the warehouse at Gooseberry Patch, and then during the spring and summer she moved over to Millcreek's potting and shipping department. Agne enjoyed working at both companies -- which have opposite busy seasons -- and felt rejuvenated after each stint. So she spread the word among her seasonal coworkers, and others began to follow her lead.

The potential advantages for the companies didn't go unnoticed. Last year Gooseberry Patch co-owner JoAnn Martin and warehouse operations manager Paul Gaulke talked with Millcreek co-owners George and Lynda Pealer and agreed to notify employees at the end of their respective busy seasons that the other company was staffing up. So far, about 5% of Gooseberry's seasonal employees now shuttle between the two companies. Gaulke says that the arrangement saves Gooseberry more than $2,000 in annual training costs. It has also resulted in a more positive attitude among returning employees, who command higher wages. Job variety helps prevent boredom, says Gaulke, and better job security helps employees focus on the tasks at hand because "they know they don't have to go out there and look for work."

-- Robina A. Gangemi

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