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North Shore hopes to see return of seasonal workers ahead of busy season

Apr 20, 2022 09:18AM ● By Editor

Minnesota's North Shore depends on tourism to keep the economy booming, especially as the weather gets warmer. 

And while there are signs the worker shortage could be letting up, some popular places there are having a hard time keeping up with demand as tourism bounces back. 

"We need the visitors, we love the visitors," said Jim Boyd, a member of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce. "They are what allows us to have jobs and allows our families to survive."

Grand Marais is Cook County's retail center that features several businesses run mostly by families, like Beth Rogers Kennedy.

She has owned several businesses, including, at one point, a fudge shop, up until several years ago when her son took over.


The pandemic took a toll on him when people flocked to town but at the same time, seasonal workers were drying up. 

"It really wreaks havoc with family life because there's nobody else to work," said Rogers Kennedy. She says her son was working 12-hour days, seven days a week and was forced to close the shop early.

The county relies on what's called a J-1 visa — an exchange program of sorts for international college students, 300 of whom usually work throughout the summer across the county. Boyd says about more than half of them work in Grand Marais. 

That was, until the Trump Administration temporary halted part of the program. Then, shortly after that, was the onset of COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

"Between those two things, it changed the ability for students to come and they just weren't able to show up," said Rogers Kennedy.

The number of student workers dropped to just 19 last year, according to Boyd. While statewide, Hospitality Minnesota says the industry is down about 30,000 workers.

"It was just really, really bad," said Boyd.

But even as the tourism boom shows no signs of slowing down, there's renewed hope about hiring again as the paused visa program has since expired and the pandemic winds down.

"It's not that it's going to totally take up all of the need, but will certainly help," said Rogers Kennedy.

Meanwhile, in the Minnesota legislature, there's also a bill that would create a new, and free, online hospitality class to train even more new workers.

To watch the original report and see related stories, follow this link to the KARE 11 News website.

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