When talking with a friend from out of the area today, I was reminded of a common occurrence here on the coast: poaching.

No, I’m not talking about poaching of wildlife, although that certainly is an issue up here. I’m referring, in this particular instance, to the poaching of people. Now, I’m sure that poaching happens in lots of other places as well, but up here I think that it’s a very interesting phenomenon, and it is tied in with a lot of issues which are not present in other communities.

I still remember the first time I got poached. I was working behind the counter at one of my assorted jobs, and someone ambled in and bluntly asked how much I got paid. Naturally, I replied that this wasn’t really that person’s concern, and I offered my assistance with something else. The person pressed on, finally admitting that ou was representing another business who had noticed me at work and liked the way I operated. The other company, this person told me, would be willing to pay me 150% of my current wages, no matter what they were.

What did I do?

I took the job, of course.

Poaching here is particularly interesting, to me, because businesses poach from many parts of the labor pool. I’m accustomed to the idea of, say, big firms trying to entice employees from one another. But up, poaching happens to cooks, good retail clerks, and secretaries. Partly this is because all of these things are in demand around here, and of course there are no massive corporations to engage in poaching wars.

Poaching can really hurt small businesses who cannot afford to offer better wages, but genuinely love their employees. Fortunately, most bosses around here understand that money is a bottom line for a lot of people, and employees who get poached are usually wished good fortune in their future adventures, rather than being cursed to the skies. This changes, of course, when someone quits abruptly, engages in underhanded dealings, or sells company secrets. A lot of places which cannot afford the best wages try to offer other perks as incentives, in recognition that poaching does happen. Sometimes, the perks compensate for the less than ideal wage, as does the sense of belonging to a collective family. At other times…you get poached.

Poaching up here really illustrates, for me, the impact of our shadow economy. The amount of marijuana sales in Mendocino County can only be estimated, of course, but it is assumed to be formidable. And a lot of young people flash around a lot of cash and open small businesses. Often, the math just doesn’t add up when you look at overall intake stacked against payroll and other operating costs.

If one wants to make their fortune growing weed and then branch out, that’s all well and good. I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. But it does put totally law-abiding business owners at a serious disadvantage, because they don’t have a supplemental and totally tax free income to sweeten rates of pay with. It’s even more apparent now, as the economy flails and the totally legitimate businesses struggle.

It’s also entertaining to me when I see pot-based businesses being praised for their success, because of their little green secret. Of course, without these businesses, a lot of folks would be in very bad shape, financially. Marijuana has probably saved a lot of people from poverty and miserable lives, which is why many people up here do not actually support legalization. With legalization would come financial disaster, and we all know it.

Interesting, isn’t it, how a little plant can lay a long and complicated path which ends with someone sidling into a business and wooing its employees away.