LAKESHORE REGIONAL NEWS: Door County, Kewaunee County, Manitowoc County, and Sheboygan County

Door County businesses attribute difficulties finding seasonal staff to affordable housing shortage

Local News

DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WFRV) – Memorial Day Weekend marks the official start to summer in Door County; the busiest time of year for most businesses.

For restaurants struggling to fill seasonal positions, long hours have already gone into finding staff for the summer.

“[We spend] hours going through the online jobs boards, hundreds of dollars boosting ads on these employment sites,” Joe Smith, General Manager of Shipwrecked Brew Pub said.

Restaurants up and down the peninsula, working hard to fill positions

“We’re probably at about 70 percent,” Jason Estes, Owner of Sonny’s Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria said. “So we’re still short. So people are working longer shifts, they’re working doubles, working more days. So we are worried about burnout.”

Kelsey Fox, Director of Communications & Workforce Development for the Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC), says the struggle has been felt at businesses across the county.

“They’re kind of forced to either reduce hours or look for other resources or kind of get really creative,” she told Local 5.

The DCEDC surveyed the county’s small businesses this spring.

“38.4 percent, that’s a pretty big number that indicated that based on staffing that they have right now, or in early May, that they’re going to have to make some modifications,” Fox said.

89 businesses responded to the survey, which was distributed in early April.

The staffing shortage can be partially attributed to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the J1 Student Visa Program, which allows international students to enter the country to work for the summer.

“We normally get nine [international student workers],” Estes said. “We got zero this year. So we’re working around that, and I think we’re set for a busy summer.”

The Shipwrecked has been able to welcome some J1 students

“Kids from the Dominican Republic came a couple weeks ago, Romanians start coming next week,” Smith said.

The seasonal workforce survey indicates the J1 situation is the second largest barrier to hiring in the county, with 31.4% of respondents naming it their top concern.

38.4% said housing was their top barrier to hiring for the season.

“With so much of the properties turning to Vrbo and Air BNB, there’s not a lot of affordable housing for staff up here in Door County,” Smith said.

Affordable housing has been an ongoing issue in the county.

“It’s kind of a systemic issue we have and we can no longer not do anything about it,” Fox said.

The county was selected as a pilot community in a statewide affordable housing initiative.

For now, Door County’s restaurants are figuring out how to make do with the staff they have.

“It’s a big team effort here, so people pitch in, pick up extra shifts,” Smith said.

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