Order a drink or a burger from a local resort eatery this summer and you may find yourself in a friendly conversation with a server from Russia, Czech Republic or France.
As the unemployment rate in Minnesota continues to drop, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Brainerd lakes area resorts to fill job vacancies. So more area resorts are searching foreign countries for summer help. Also, students in the U.S. usually head back to college in mid-August. Foreign college students usually can stay through October, which allows the resorts to remain staffed at the end of the summer season.
Madden's Resort, Cragun's Resort, Ruttger's on Bay Lake, Grand View Lodge and Breezy Point Resort are some of the larger area resorts who hire foreign employees. A few resorts hire agencies to search for larger numbers of employees, while some resorts simply have a handful of foreign college students who apply for jobs independently each summer.
Ruttger's on Bay Lake in Deerwood hires about 10-20 international college students each summer who live in staff housing on the resort. The students obtain a J-1 visa which allows them to stay in the U.S. for up to four months.
"It's worked out well," said Diane Stromberg, Ruttger's human resources coordinator, of hiring foreign help. "Our guests look forward to the diversity."
Stromberg said a group of Ruttger's foreign employees have set up a Web site to keep in touch with one another. This summer students will arrive from Germany, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Spain and Poland.
Grand View Lodge hires about 550 staff members at the peak of its summer season. Of those, 60-70 employees are from foreign countries, like France, Ireland, England and Russia. They've been hiring foreign employees for about 15 years.
"At first we did it to add flair to the resort," said Jan Kemmet, human resource director at Grand View Lodge. "But now it's a necessity."
Kemmet said larger stores that have moved into the Brainerd lakes area in recent years, like Home Depot and Walgreens, are luring away the local employment base. Most area workers want full-time jobs and not seasonal positions. Some foreign college students can earn more in a summer in the Brainerd lakes area making $5-$7 an hour than they can in their own countries. They pay about $100 a month to live in staff housing and are allowed to use the resort amenities in their free time.
All of Grand View Lodge's summer help, whether they're from Norway or Nisswa, wear name badges that list their hometowns. It has become a helpful tool for staff to get to know their guests. Often, they find they all have something in common, she said.
Kemmet said international students chose to come here instead of the Twin Cities because most of them are from rural communities.
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