COOK COUNTY—North Shore businesses are familiar with the struggle for seasonal workers. This year, the need for additional workers is apparent; Gene’s Foods in Grand Marais is closed on Sundays due to the lack of help, and World’s Best Donuts reported having to cut their hours for the same reason.
Brian Sherburne, the human resources director at Bluefin Bay, said the family of resorts brings on about 60 people each summer and fall, consisting of both domestic and international workers. That’s in addition to its domestic staff of more than 100 people.
Bluefin Bay first began hiring international workers in the mid-nineties. Like many businesses in the area, it hires utilizing two types of visa programs: J-1 and H-2B. To connect with the international candidates, the resort works with companies that sponsor visa holders, or, it reaches out to the workers directly by working with an attorney and the consulates in other countries. “Without the international help, we wouldn’t be able to operate,” said Sherburne.
The J-1 is a temporary visa for scholars, professors and exchange visitors to participate in programs that promote cultural exchange, like business training. People with a J-1 visa are typically students sponsored by a university, private sector or government program.
Sherburne said at BlueFin Bay, the majority of their J-1 visa holders are college students on summer break, often from the European Union and Baltic states. In the winter, a smaller number of J-1 students from South America work during the summer break in their home countries.
H-2B visas are for temporary, non-agricultural workers of any age. They can be here for a longer time based on the need of the business, typically from early April or May through late November. That can be a huge benefit to North Shore employers who are attempting to manage
Recently, Sherburne ran an ad in the Cook County News-Herald for a line cook, and he said about five other resorts were seeking to fill the same position. To recruit staff, he said that it’s often necessary for businesses to offer additional benefits. For example, Bluefin Bay provides housing, at a cost, for seasonal workers, and it runs a shuttle from Silver Bay to the resort.
Sherburne said the local labor pool is shrinking, and the continuous struggle for seasonal workers is a regular part of operating a business in our region.
“Business is increasing as the North Shore continues to become a popular vacation destination for people. It’s a challenge for businesses to keep going.”