Hundreds of businesses in Cape Breton say a labour shortage is making it almost impossible to find workers.

Kirk McRae, owner of several sandwich shops, is overwhelmed by the Help Wanted signs springing up.

"It's something we haven't seen in Cape Breton in a hundred years, but it's here," he said.

Of all the business problems McRae thought he might encounter in Cape Breton, he never imagined he wouldn't be able to find enough workers.

McRae says he usually has 80 to 85 people on staff, but now his six stores in the Sydney areaare short at least five full-time workers. The people he would normally hire are moving to other jobs on the island.

From call centres to car lots, businesses across Cape Breton are looking for workers.

Breton Toyota held a job fair this month to try to fill a dozen positions, and manager Paul Coombs says it's been tough finding licensed mechanics.

Like many other workers in the trades, mechanics have all gone west, he says.

"I'm really concerned about the number of people that are leaving," Coombs said. "I think the unemployment rate is deflated by the fact that people left, not because they found jobs."

Some businesses say the labour picture in Cape Breton is not so bleak.

With call centres expanding and big box stores in development, some business leaders say the labour shortage is a happy sign of an economy that's growing.