Bar Harbor feeling the pinch of seasonal worker shortage

More than 3 million people are expected to travel to Acadia National Park this summer, many of...
More than 3 million people are expected to travel to Acadia National Park this summer, many of whom will visit Bar Harbor.(Bryan Sidelinger)
Published: May. 3, 2021 at 7:12 PM EDT
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BAR HARBOR, Maine (WABI) - As Maine’s service industry is on the brink of another tourist season, it’s facing a serious labor shortage. Foreign workers aren’t getting visas from their home countries because many of their embassies are back-logged or closed, and there aren’t enough American workers to fill the gaps.

”I haven’t spoken to a single business owner in this area who is not having an issue with hiring workers this year,” said Jena Young, owner of Side Street Cafe in Bar Harbor.

Tourist towns like Bar Harbor typically don’t have the population to staff for a season that will see more than three million people visit the area. Its why visa workers are critical to supplementing the workforce.

“When you take that away, we have to cut our menu, we have to cut our seating, cut our hours,” Young said. “And it will be felt. The trickle down from the cut back in what we can do for the tourist industry will be felt in every budget in the state.”

As tourist season for towns like Bar Harbor’s expands, so does the need for a larger workforce.

“Twenty years ago, we were able to fill our four months season with college and high school students,” said Peter Hastings of the Ivy Manor Inn. “That’s no longer really the case, because we’re open two months before the college students get out, and then we’re open two months after they go back. So the visa workers have filled the gap as the town has continued to grow.”

Business owners in Bar Harbor say that while higher unemployment benefits is a contributing factor to the lack of American workers, the problem isn’t simply that Americans don’t want to work.

“I don’t know anyone who is sitting on unemployment right now in town,” Hastings said. “That’s not our issue.”

“The unemployment in our state is still relatively small, and that should be noted,” added Young. “Really, there are a lot of layers.”

Hastings said one part of the problem is a lack of affordable housing, or even available housing. He cited a lack of child care for workers who have children at home as another. And the reasons Americans aren’t applying for service industry jobs don’t stop there.

“A lot of those employees who did the seasonal jobs and traveled from the ski resorts to the coastal towns, they moved on to other jobs,” Hastings said. “That left a big hole in our workforce. So there’s a lot of small factors that are playing into this.”

A lot factors in the creation of a problem that for the moment has no easy solution, according to Young.

“I think that we need to look as an industry at how we make this a place that people want to be involved and come and work.”

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