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Northern Michigan Businesses, Chambers of Commerce, Prepare for Busy Summer Season Amid Worker Shortage

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The summer season is upon us, and that means more visitors to the northern Michigan area, but between staffing shortages and low motivation to join the workforce, businesses are having a tough time finding the staff to supply their seasonal jobs.

“We just got the reports out that we’re going to have another record breaking year for tourism, and we couldn’t be more excited,” said Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce President Caitlyn Berard. “We’ve got a lot of festivals and events engaged again, and having the community, having our regional partners, and having people travel back up, they’re going to be very engaged and activated up here. But that means we need that many, more team players.”

Berard said it’s been a tough two years for businesses.

“We didn’t have the staff two years ago, and we didn’t have them last summer, but we were so focused on being open. There were so many regulations that tied us down, and last summer it was really hard because we were coming out of another regulatory winter,” she said. “This year, the guests, the tourism, our residents have now had a year of activity under their belt, so they’re maybe more engaged, where as last year we were still a little bit more hesitant than we were even before COVID.”

Berard said businesses have had to get creative with how they bring in talent.

“Part time, flexible hours, having more people engaged in our workforce, whatever those hybrid situations can look like, will be beneficial,” she said.

Even newly-established Social Districts she said is a great way to cater to guests when there’s fewer people on staff.

“It’s still a way to utilize the restaurants, still get your drinks, still enjoy your time in the downtown. You can still shop, you can still have that experience, you’re not waiting on them, they can still provide that service to you,” Berard said. “I think that’s a huge element of how businesses are looking at creative ways to still provide a service, even when they don’t have that traditional motive or having a workforce.”

Another business looking into creative ways to bring in workers, especially in the summer, is Cadillac Area YMCA’s Camp Torenta.

“We kept camp going in 2020 and 2021, but not to the level that we wanted,” said Cadillac Area YMCA Executive Director Mike Kelso. “This is a year we’re hoping to really bounce back with a vigorous number of kids in camp, and it’s already looking that way.”

Kelso said they have about 300 children registered for day camp this year, more than years past.

But they needed the staff to work.

“It’s actually been a challenge for a number of years, it’s what’s causing the challenge seems to change,” Kelso said. “Now it’s just about the overall job market, the number of people looking for employment versus the number of people looking for jobs, and the wages people are expecting.”

Kelso said they’ve worked for months to come up with a solution to bring in more talent.

They moved from a weekly wage of $290 to paying an hourly wage of $10-13 an hour, almost double the wage weekly, on top of a $500 sign on bonus.

Kelso said that hard work has paid off. They’ve filled 11 of the 12 camp counselor spots.

“I think it’s just the sign of the times and the economics for young adults,” he said. “Back when I started doing this work 15-20 years ago, college tuition was low, cost of living was low, and they wanted a fun job for the summer and an experience. I think there’s still a desire to have a great experience, but the pressure to earn a lot of money has significantly increased. $10-13 an hour is not going to make anybody rich, they’re still coming for the experience, but there’s a reality of how much money they need to earn just to live day to day.”

He said times have changed, and will continue to change.

“It seems a lot of the indicators are going to stick around for a while, and we’ll see how things balance out as the years come,” said Kelso.