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'We are working the people we have to death': Ashtabula Co. tourism sees impact from worker shortage

Businesses forced to cut back hours, days open
Posted at 9:18 PM, Jun 27, 2021

GENEVA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ohio — With summer in full-swing, businesses that count on that seasonal traffic are finding themselves having to cut back, not because of a lack of customers from the pandemic, but from a lack of workers.

The scars from the pandemic don’t pop up at Geneva-On-The-Lake like they did last summer, where social distancing and masks seem like a distant memory. Instead, the markers of a still recovering economy show up in the forms of "We're Hiring" signs, highlighting just how far businesses will go to fill that spike in needed summer employment.

For the village administrator, Jeremy Shaffer, those seasonal slots just aren’t filling up.

“The employment problem overall has caused some businesses to close during the week,” Shaffer said. ”Instead of being open seven days, they might be open three days or four days. If anyone wants a job, right now is a great time to come out and get one.”

Over at Sportsterz Bar & Grill, the owner had to look for creative ways to hide his worker shortage such as optimizing internet orders and QR codes at tables.

"We can’t find enough people," owner Matthew Caudill said. "It sends you a text and you have to walk up and get your food, instead of having someone serve you at your table because we can’t find enough staff."

At the Lakehouse Inn Resort, customers continue to pour in at a record pace, but the staff shortage of about 30 percent means less of a traditional experience for guests.

“We are working the people we have to death,” CEO Karen Fagnilli said. “We’re not open for breakfast to the public anymore. We’re not open for lunch. We’re only open for dinner service and when mother nature cooperates we’re open on the outside patio.”

If you ask business owners and local leaders, the worker shortage isn’t just a homegrown problem. They told News 5 they're not seeing the same number of foreign students utilizing work visas.

“That’s been tightened up and is harder to do because of Covid too so we don’t have that stream of employees we normally have,” Shaffer added.

Experts say it’s just one of several factors playing a role this summer.

“One of the surprises is that folks thought that as the government benefits would go away, it would drive people back into the workforce more quickly,” Professor Michael Goldberg at Case Western Reserve University said. “It’s happening but it’s slower than folks thought.”

Ashtabula County’s unemployment rate has stayed at about 5% for the past several months.

Owners told News 5 they hope this issue can come to an end before it does permanent long-term damage on the local economy.

“We really only do well here four months of the year here at Geneva-On-The-Lake,” Caudill said. “The less hours we’re open in these four months, that hurts. It hurts bad.”