[caption id="attachment_231953" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Delaware beach businesses are short workers once again as they enter the summer tourism season and the lack of affordable housing is only exacerbating the issue. | PHOTO COURTESY OF GOVERNOR'S OFFICE[/caption]
REHOBOTH BEACH – As summer shifts into full gear for the 2023 season, some beach businesses are again bracing for welcoming customers a little short-handed.Throughout Rehoboth Beach, “help wanted” and other signs indicating that establishments are looking to hire can be found throughout the city. And some, like Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Carol Everhart said the need is due in large part to a lack of affordable housing for potential employees.“I wouldn’t say it’s all businesses, but I would say it’s a high percentile,” she told Delaware Business Times in mid-June. “I take my hat off to the business community because they are finding a way to continue to service the visitors and the customers. It’s a struggle for them.”Even Everhart isn’t immune to the challenges. Instead of working with the normal six or seven full-time chamber employees, she’s getting by this summer with only three, plus 10 other hourly workers filling in the gaps.Some businesses are opting to close certain days or times of the week. But the issue of a lack of housing for the people that would normally fill those positions is years in the making — and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.“That workforce housing is critical,” Everhart said, noting that some kind of collaborative program between financial institutions and state or local governments could help. But that’s not an option on the horizon currently.
[caption id="attachment_230221" align="alignright" width="300"] Mike Dickinson | PHOTO COURTESY OF SODEL CONCEPTS[/caption]
Mike Dickinson, president of the restaurant group SoDel Concepts that has many locations in the beach communities, said that they have worked hard to nurture existing staff and offer good benefits and opportunities in order to stay adequately staffed in an increasingly competitive labor market.“As more operators open their doors, it forces all of us to look at our workforce and how we can make the entirety of the experience as positive as possible for them,” he said.While the pandemic ultimately led to a job market that has put more power in employees’ hands, driving up base wages and making remote options more of a must-have, it also led to some property owners finding new sources of revenue.
[caption id="attachment_231954" align="alignleft" width="300"] Rehoboth Beach amusement park Funland has benefited from offering apartments to workers, but it too is below target staffing levels. | PHOTO COURTESY OF GOVERNOR'S OFFICE[/caption]
Those who would have normally rented to beach workers or even foreign J-1 students, who travel to the United States on a special visa to both work and explore a different culture, found themselves without renters for a period of time. Some then found it far more lucrative to rent those same properties on a weekly basis through platforms such as Airbnb or VRBO instead, said Everhart and Chris Darr, personnel manager for the mainstay boardwalk amusement park Funland.“That’s driven a lot of the affordable housing out of the market,” said Darr, who has hired 29 J-1 students from eight different countries this year.They account for about 20% of the 142-person workforce he’s hired so far, and he hopes to have 165 employees by the end of the summer season. At the same time, he said some other business operators hope the workers housed by Funland might pick up a second job at their local establishment to help fill staffing gaps.Funland is one of the few places that still offers housing to its workers (both American and foreign) at a set rate for the summer season. But one block of apartments the business uses is slated for demolition to make way for a hotel project — prompting the longtime operators to consider the option of buying their own apartments.They’re not the only ones exploring that route, Darr said.“It’s a huge problem because these businesses are busier than ever, and yet you’re hearing all these employers say [they] can’t find enough people to work,” Darr said. “We’re fortunate.”
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