An influx of businesses opening for the summer pairs nicely with the seasonal work force that comes to Door County for a few months each summer. But as businesses opened their doors this spring, the work force never came.
“Help Wanted” signs dot businesses on the peninsula and residents are saying they have never seen the number of summer jobs left vacant this far into the season. Pulse columnist Steve Grutzmacher first commented on the issue in his May 8 column on the aging work force in the county. But age is just one theory behind the lack of employees this year.
I drove from Sister Bay to Fish Creek with my audio recorder, stopping at businesses with “Help Wanted” signs in their windows. I asked business owners how this year compares to past years and why they think a full staff is so hard to come by. This is what they said.
“Unemployment is a huge issue. The state’s unemployment is broken. [Applicants] actually come out and say, ‘I can’t make that much because I need unemployment’ or other assistance that they’re receiving. Or they apply and it’s because they have to do work search. You get applicants that apply every year and finally we’ve figured out that they’re just doing a work search so they’re really not looking for employment.” ~ Erin Lautenbach and Carrie Lautenbach-Viste, Orchard Country Winery & Market
“It’s got to do with, in my opinion, unemployment. We had a guy who stopped and wanted a job but just wanted to do part time because he doesn’t want to go over his limits because he doesn’t want to lose his benefits. That’s ridiculous. Instead of saying ‘I’m here and looking for a job, what do you have available’, they only want to work so much so they do not affect the benefits.” ~ Nino Jauregui, Arroyo Bay Grill
“There’s no place for them to stay. The ones that we did get, their parents owned a house or a condo so they had a place to live. We used to get a lot of walk-in college students and the last three or four years I don’t think we got any walking in.” ~ Michael Hyde, The Craic Coffee and Shop (formerly owners of the Fish Creek Market)
“I’ve got a duplex that’s half empty but most of the kids that have lived there have trashed it on us so we’re reluctant to even open it up anymore. My husband had a restaurant in the confectionary shop and housing was Good Eggs. In fact, I lived in the Good Egg for eleven years in the summer. I know about summer situations.” ~ Peg Lowry, Blue Dolphin House
“Housing is the number one issue I would say. We have a few that may be coming back if they can find housing. For us, that’s always been a big issue because we don’t provide housing. Bob [Lautenbach] tried building some probably about 15 years ago. They received a lot of pushback and resistance from both the town and community members that community housing or affordable housing there was going to be a lot of parties.” ~ Orchard Country Winery & Market
J-1 Visa Students
“The state said that they were allowed and we hired them and we planned on them coming in and then a few weeks before they were to leave, then they got denied. It’s because the country is getting stricter on that.” ~ Amy Christianson, Julie’s Park Cafe
“They say that they don’t work enough and we send in how many hours we promise to give them and that’s what we give them. In this case they want to move to be in housekeeping, they don’t want to be in the restaurants. [The state] said if they’re not happy, they should leave. So we don’t sponsor anymore because they don’t back you up.” ~ Arroyo Bay Grill
“I heard one mother say that her son works so hard in school that he needs some time off. That wasn’t my situation. We’re not having people that own homes up here coming up for the summer and all the kids working, which used to be the thing that we would find. Even if they were of an income where the kids don’t have to work, they made sure they got a job and had some work experience.” ~ Blue Dolphin House
“It used to be where you had two or three jobs to sustain yourself and now people don’t have as good of a work ethic as they did 15 years ago. A lot of the young people coming in maybe want to work 40 hours. And we’ve always seen that with the younger people, that they want to have a fun summer and don’t want to work a tremendous amount.” ~ Orchard Country Winery
Economic Development Corporation Responds
Sam Perlman, Economic Development Manager at the Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC), said his office has heard similar statements from the businesses they have spoken to.
“We’d like to think it’s due in some part to the end of the recessionary period,” said Perlman. “People are investing more, they’re growing their businesses more, they’re opening new businesses. I think there’s a bit larger economic forces at work.”
The J-1 Visa program is still bringing in more than 250 foreign students to work in the county and the DCEDC is working with five municipalities to develop more rental housing throughout the county. The DCEDC has also encountered manipulation of unemployment benefits and its board will continue addressing the inconvenience it puts on businesses.
“There are more help wanted advertisements and, in the conversations we’re having with our employers, there definitely seems to be a work force shortage, especially this year,” said Perlman. “It’s not just the tourism industry, it’s all industries.”