Even amid high unemployment, finding employees challenging for some businesses | ParkRecord.com

Even amid high unemployment, finding employees challenging for some businesses

Without J-1 visas, workers are almost entirely local

Neftaly Madriz, an employee at The Market at Park City, restocks items in early 2020. While essential workers have stayed busy, in other sectors, finding employees has been challenging.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Winter in Park City has typically brought with it a recurring problem for area employers. With low unemployment rates and a high cost of living, finding seasonal workers to help staff up during the busiest time of the year has been difficult. Some employers paid a higher salary, while others got creative, offering flexible schedules so workers could hit the slopes every morning or afternoon.

This year, COVID-19 turned that reality on its head. Now, with the unemployment rate still elevated due to the pandemic, finding workers isn’t an issue. But all the other headaches still exist.

Jennifer Wesselhoff, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said the hiring situation in Park City is still not ideal.

“If this were a normal winter, the hiring situation would be dire, but the reduced volumes of both visitation and events has meant that our hiring levels have been a closer match for the present customer volume,” she said. “With that being said, though, many businesses are looking for employees — as is represented with the temporary closure of the Swede Alley DABC store.”

Chamber/Bureau members have said they were busier than expected in December, Wesselhoff added, and had a hard time finding staff to meet the demand. She said she doesn’t believe COVID-19 has significantly altered businesses’ ability to find employees.

“As always, a free market attracts the best employees based on their salary needs and number of hours they are looking to work,” she said. “Park City has traditionally been attractive to potential employees when local businesses are able to pay a premium over opportunities in Salt Lake, Wasatch and Utah counties. I don’t think COVID has been a particular problem in attracting workers.”

Wesselhoff also boasted of the county’s free rapid testing program for businesses and their employees, which she said makes Summit County more attractive to workers who want to limit their chances of catching the virus and who don’t want to miss work quarantining due to exposure.

“This makes working in Summit County more attractive than ever during the continuing pandemic,” she said.

Wesselhoff added that the Chamber/Bureau’s top priority is public health.

“Our businesses are working very hard to keep their employees, customers and residents safe during this time,” she said. “More than 350 businesses have signed up to commit to the Stay Safe to Stay Open program.”

Chris Lampe, Deer Valley Resort’s director of human resources, said the resort is “staffed appropriately” given the limitations and restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Due to COVID-19 we reduced our staffing levels based on anticipated business needs due to social distancing, reduced restaurant occupancy as well as lodging and mountain operations,” he said.

An unusual change for the resort, which typically draws young men and women from all over the globe: due to restrictions on J-1 visas, Lampe said nearly 100% of the seasonal workers are American.

“This is an interesting year due to COVID-19,” he said. “More people moved here for the winter or came to their second home to work. College students came with them or could study virtually and work for the resort, too. This scenario may never happen again.”

Lampe said while the resort is grateful for the staff it has, Deer Valley loses something by not having the usual foreign workers.

“We do miss the cultural aspect of the program, bringing in people from around the world to share their cultures with our guests and staff,” he said. “The J-1 program and these college students help strengthen international relationships.”

At Park City Mountain Resort, the situation is much the same. Jessica Miller, senior communications manager at PCMR, said the resort has had a high volume of applicants so far this season for indoor and outdoor positions.

“In addition to new applicants, we have a great base of seasonal employees and our employees from prior seasons have continued to show enthusiasm to return to work this winter,” she said.

Miller said PCMR knew going into the winter it would be without seasonal J-1 workers and planned accordingly.

“We heavily recruited in our resort town regions to provide as many local employment opportunities as we could and found interest among students who have more flexibility now due to online learning or deferring college attendance for a year,” she said. “Despite the challenges this year has presented, our employees continue to adapt and are working hard every day to provide a safe and memorable mountain experience for our guests.

“They have made this season possible for all of us.”

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