ELY – The acute labor shortage in Ely this summer continues unabated, and as local businesses struggle to even stay open with reduced staff, the city’s tourist industry is straining under …
ELY – The acute labor shortage in Ely this summer continues unabated, and as local businesses struggle to even stay open with reduced staff, the city’s tourist industry is straining under the stress of too many visitors and too little service.
The city of Ely’s Economic Development Authority struggled to find the answers last week at their monthly meeting. In a conversation with Ely Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Eva Sebesta, she said her organization is conducting a workforce survey among members to brainstorm ideas.
“We are looking to form a list of different options,” she said, “whether that could include internships, encouraging businesses to utilize the J-1 visa program, or other ways. We want to expend our time, energy and funds in the direction that our businesses want us to go. This is a time when we really need to look at thinking outside the box and (looking) at some non-traditional ways of solving the workforce problem.”
Sebesta said the Ely Chamber has an online job posting board for its members.
“We have a place where the businesses can get their job listings out there, and we’ve had some success with that,” she said.
With the summer winding down, Sebesta said she is looking to help local businesses this fall plan for next year by presenting more options in the Chamber’s business development series.
Harold Langowski, Ely’s Clerk-Treasurer, asked about any reluctance by Ely businesses to use the J-1 programs that allow for workers to come temporarily from other nations.
“Is it just an unknown for them?” he asked.
“I don’t think it is an unknown,” Sebesta said. “People have a general concept on how it works. They may be concerned about the amount of paperwork. That is one area that we can dive into.”
Langowski estimated that perhaps 100 to 200 local positions have gone unfilled this summer.
Sebesta related that just one local tourism-related business, where her husband works, is down “five or six staff members.”
“That is a real struggle now,” Langowski said. “And as it gets tougher and tougher, summer by summer, many businesses struggle to stay open every day and it seems to affect our visitors. People go on vacation and want to go get something to eat and can’t find a restaurant open. I understand, and so does everyone in this room, why this is. This will have a detrimental effect.”
Interim Mayor Chuck Novak suggested other initiatives that include hiring refugees.
“There is no solid program for that. You can’t get a program like that. It seems like nobody is interested,” he said. “We are in a dilemma. Where do we get our workforce from?”
Council member Paul Kess added, “Even if you had a workforce, they have no place to stay. Seasonal housing here is almost non-existent.”
EDA President Heidi Omerza added, “It is not a hopeless situation, We’ll keep moving forward.”