Wineries worried about finding staff as Ohio tourism season kicks off

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Posted at 7:03 AM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 17:23:05-04

GENEVA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ohio — The cute shops, the pretty beaches, the wineries that stretch for miles. Geneva-on-the-Lake is the biggest and oldest resort town in Ohio.

"We’ve been here over 150 years and we’ve had generations after generations coming back every year,” said Mayor Dwayne M. Bennett.

But you can see the impact of the pandemic on family-owned businesses here — “help wanted” signs dotting the storefronts.

Despite that, Mayor Bennett says there’s been enormous growth recently.

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Geneva-on-the-Lake businesses hiring for busy summer months.

Lots of new housing and business development — and a spike in property values.

“Our property values are about 38% higher than anybody in the county so we’re real excited about that,” Bennett said.

And now comes the tough part — welcoming tourists back after last year’s slower season.

“We have a short window, obviously, for the businesses to make money down here, about 16 weeks if you wanna get technical with it,” he added.

But for the dozens of wineries in the area, finding help is — you guessed it — proving to be a struggle.

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Geneva-on-the-Lake businesses hiring for busy summer months.

“We’re looking for good quality people or maybe somebody that just shows up,” said Tony Debevc, laughing. He’s the president of Debonne Vineyards, and his family operates three wineries in the area.

He said staffing is tight at all of them.

They’re hoping once schools let out for the summer, they can welcome back college students and teachers who will fill the gaps.

And Debevc said now is the time for young people to find their passions — and find a job that goes along with it.

At Debonne Vineyards, they’ve raised the minimum wage for servers and handed out bonuses as incentives.

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Geneva-on-the-Lake businesses hiring for busy summer months.

“I think it is better now, for opportunities for young people or anybody for that matter, for their future than it was two years before this pandemic. There is a lot of excitement, a lot of money out there available,” Debevc said.

Bennett also said part of the reason Geneva-on-the-Lake is expecting a boost in tourism this year is because of their recent shoreline revamp and cleaning up the beaches. They’ve applied for an ODNR grant that would help with a full shoreline renovation.