Tourism-based businesses scramble to look for summer staff

Published 8:23 am Tuesday, June 6, 2017

BRAINERD — Flourishing Minnesota resorts are scrambling to deal with a seasonal worker shortage heading into summer.

According to the state demographer’s office, baby boomers in popular tourist areas are retiring faster than they can be replaced. The Star Tribune ( reports that temporary worker prospects were also limited this year when a congressional exemption that allowed more international seasonal workers into the U.S. expired.

Minneapolis immigration attorney Loan Huynh said more H-2B visas have since been approved, but a federal office has yet to resume processing on such applications.

At Breezy Point Resort in Pequot Lakes, assistant general manager David Spizzo said he had hoped to use 25 H-2B visa workers for the first time this year, but he only ended up with four. He’s brought in family and asked his managers to help cover the extra housekeeping and cleaning.

“This is what you do, because when you don’t have enough staff, somebody’s got to get it done,” he said.

Business leaders say they would rather hire locally; bringing international workers in is expensive for employers, who must pay for visa processing and transportation.

“International workers are the only option many Cook County employers have. Our unemployment rate in summer dips below 3 percent, significantly beyond healthy full employment,” county economic leaders wrote to officials in Washington recently. “We’ve never seen the labor shortage as acute as it is for this coming summer.”

The state tourism office says the number of people traveling in Minnesota increased 10.8 percent from 2013 to 2015, reaching 71.2 million people. After a strong season last year, expectations for this season are high, with nearly half of lodging businesses surveyed this spring expecting summer revenue to be up.