2006-08-26 / Top News

Businesses Adjust to Staff Changes as Season Winds Down

By Bernie Nguyen

As the summer tourist season nears its conclusion, seasonal workers are beginning to return to their off-Island homes, leaving some businesses strapped for help, despite a growing reliance on foreign workers.

Dave Sanderson, general manager of Mission Point Resort, said the hotel employs about 250 seasonal employees and estimates that a little more than half are citizens from other countries, working under temporary

student and general work visas. By varying their employment rosters with J-1 student visas and H2B seasonal work visas, which are sixmonth work permits, the resort tries to smooth the transition between the end of summer and its closing date, October 29. Nevertheless, the resort is a little short-staffed this fall with the departure of many of the college students.

"Most of the J-1 student visas leave between the middle and the end of September," Mr. Sanderson said, adding that some have already left. "We'll be a little short. We're looking to hire people to get us to the end of the season." Most of the openings, he said, are for food servers and desk clerks.

To prevent end-of-season staff issues, Mr. Sanderson explained that the resort looks each year at its September and October business projections and tries to tailor its hiring accordingly. A busy fall would lead to hiring of more H2B workers, who can stay all the way to the end of October.

Mackinac State Historic Parks has also begun a gradual closing. Its downtown buildings were shut down for the season August 20, and Fort Mackinac's ticket hours have been reduced from 11.7 hours a day to 7.0 hours.

Only a third of the interpretive staff remains to help wrap things up, clean out the buildings, and maintain Fort Mackinac programs until its last day, October 8. Dave Schmidt, whose work at the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop is finished for the season, will clean out the shop and move to Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, where he will finish out the fall. Cooking supplies and perishable food items are also sent to Michilimackinac, where the interpretive programs there can make use of them.

The experience at Fort Mackinac is by no means diminished, however, said Katie Cederholm, the education coordinator for Mackinac State Historic Parks, even though the staff is smaller and the hours are reduced.

"It's kind of a neat time for people to visit," she said. The decreasing number of visitors as the weather gradually turns cooler allows the interpreters to offer more tours and more one-on-one attention.

"It's more laid back," Ms. Cederholm said of the fall. "The visitors are taking their time as well. The visitors can really get to know the interpreters leading the tours."

Patti Ann Moskwa, co-owner of the Yankee Rebel Tavern and Horn's Gaslight Bar, said that because of the many college students she employs and their differing schedules, she staggers the hiring so that the workers come in shifts, some in May and some in June.

"I know when I need people to fill positions, and that's how I hire," she said.

Of the estimated 75 seasonal workers she employs each summer, about 15 percent are from Jamaica. She has been in the business long enough to anticipate the needs, and knows the employment requirements of both restaurants well enough to keep things running to the end of October, when Horn's Bar closes after its annual Halloween party. The staggered employee hiring system also contributes to the transition between the busier summer months and the slowerpaced autumn.

Brian Bailey, general manager of the Chippewa and Lilac Tree Hotels, said that as the summer comes to a close, about a third of the hotels' employees leave. The two hotels employ about 160 seasonal workers over the course of the summer. Only about 15 percent of the hotel's employees are college students, added Mr. Bailey, making it easier to keep the necessary number of employees on the Island, even after school starts.

"The staff decreases and makes it more efficient," he said. "We go into the fall hoping that we have really busy weekends, and during the week it's much softer. Everyone pitches in to get through those Friday nights and Saturdays.

Mr. Bailey also said that minimizing the staff during the fall helps to lower the overhead when business is not at its peak, and that since the staff is trained, the balance can more easily be maintained during the transition from a busy summer to a more relaxed autumn.

"It's a fine line there, especially in the fall," he said.

Fort Mackinac's last day is October 9. Most downtown hotels and businesses will be closed around October 31, when Grand Hotel closes.

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