2017-03-16 / Front Page

Gotta room? Employers seek to rent

Summer help can use a bed
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

It’s not unusual for Leelanau residents to host summer guests in their home.

In a new twist to problems county employers encounter finding places for summer employees to live, business owners are hoping county residents will open their homes for a few more.

Included are the owners of the Bluebird Restaurant in Leland and Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor.

“Last year, I had to shrink my business, I couldn’t find enough workers,” said Telgard, who along with his wife, Lynn, operates the Bluebird and Early Bird restaurants in Leland. “I had to close my dining room for lunch and the patio as well because I couldn’t get enough help.”

The Bluebird and Cherry Republic are advertising for residents who may have an extra room to rent for the summer to help ease the housing crunch for their employees.

“Help wanted” signs have become as commonplace as “open” signs in the windows of some county businesses. They attract applicants willing to work — if they can find a place to stay.

“The myth out there is that kids today don’t want to work. That’s not true,” said Telgard, adding he’s been hiring help for about 40 years. “There are varying degrees of work ethic. But it’s rare that I find someone who can’t be trained.”

Northwest Michigan has experienced a boom in the tourism economy in recent years. But that increase in traffic requires more hands to provide services, as well as a play for them to rest.

“The need for servers and employees of all kinds has grown exponentially,” said Telgard, whose own staff quadruples from 20 to 80 during the summer. “Between the number of restaurants here and in Traverse City, the workforce doesn’t have the numbers to fill the positions.”

This year, Telgard is hoping to fill out his crew through the J1 Student Visa Program. He has arranged for 13 students from Russia, Uzbekistan and Turkey arriving between May 20 and mid-June.

But many homes in the county, especially those near shoreline, are at a prime with rental cottages garnering thousands of dollars a week in income for their owners.

Telgard went to Enterprise classified ads seeking housing for his summer staff, as has Bob Sutherland, owner of Cherry Republic.

“There are a lot of great people who would like to come in the summer to work for us, but using every resource available, we still can’t find places for them to live,” Sutherland said.

Over the past several years, Cherry Republic has leased a home in the Maple City area to house seasonal staff members. However, the home recently sold, eliminating those seasonal beds.

Sutherland himself has gone the extra mile by providing lodging in this home for the son of a friend who lives elsewhere.

Staff members have opened their homes as well.

Telgard has secured housing for his incoming foreign staff and is negotiating terms with individual property owners.

Sutherland hopes to fill out his staff with a more traditional employment base — locals and college students from Michigan and elsewhere in the U.S.

However, he fears the continued housing shortage will further discourage potential seasonal employees from looking here for work now and in the future.

“People are going to stop looking for jobs here,” he said. “We need to get the word out: Come up here and work.

“It’s a great place to spend the summer. It’s exciting and you’ll make tons of friends,” he said. “Once you spend a summer here, it’ll be your summer home for life.”

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