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Businesses adapt to worker shortage without J-1 Visa Program

Published: Jul. 6, 2020 at 5:58 PM CDT
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STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - It is the busiest time of year for Door County businesses, as people continue to visit despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel as if this year we have had at least as many visitors to Door County,” said David Pollman, manager of family businesses in Door County. “I have met quite a few people who have never been to Door County before because they have limited travel options.”

Unfortunately, the workforce is not nearly as strong without seasonal workers that from other countries through the J-1 Visa Program.

“Last year, we had more than we ever had before at close to 550 I believe, and every single one of the J-1 students works one full-time job,” said Pollman. “Most of them work two full-time jobs.”

The shortage of workers leaves some businesses no choice but to adapt or close their doors.

“A lot of the local businesses that aren’t going to open up ever again, that limited the choice and selection of food where people could dine and have that experience,” said Kenny Albert, general manager of Sonny’s Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria. “So, we were even busier than normal.”

Albert calls the Fourth of July weekend a record for Sonny’s Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria.

Employees at the restaurant pick up extra shifts and do additional side work to fill the gaps of eight student workers in the J-1 Visa Program that were not able to come to Door County this summer.

“I am hiring for everything: bartenders, servers, and waitresses,” said Albert.

“You come to vacation, you want to be taken care of. When places are short staffed they struggle, and I feel like a lot of us are struggling up here,” said Pollman.

Pollman reports limited success recruiting workers from outside of the state. He hopes to see even more jobs filled by the end of the summer.

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