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Maine businesses still strapped for summer workers, but see some signs of improvement

A "help wanted" sign is taped to a sign outside a motel Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in Wells, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
A "help wanted" sign is taped to a sign outside a motel Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in Wells, Maine.

Maine businesses staffing up for the upcoming tourist season may be in for another difficult summer.

A survey of Maine Tourism Association members finds that less than a third have enough staff for the summer. About two-thirds of members said they're staffed at about 50-90%.

The latest results show that the state still doesn't have enough workers to fill the number of open jobs in the hospitality and travel industries, said Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association.

Visitors may again notice long lines at restaurants or reduced hours at some businesses. But Cameron said he's hopeful this summer will be better than the previous two.

Some businesses changed their recruitment and retention efforts during the pandemic, and he says the work is paying off.

"We've seen a lot of businesses over the last couple of years become better employers," Cameron said.

Brian Langley, owner of the Union River Lobster Pot in Ellsworth, said he has taken more complex, labor intensive items off his menu to respond to staffing shortages. And though he used to start looking for seasonal workers in April, recruiting now begins in January.

But Langley and others are more optimistic about this summer, and there may be some signs of improvement.

He said he and nearby businesses are hiring more teachers and others wanting to take on additional jobs.

"Because of what we're seeing happen with inflation and such, there are a lot of people who have what I would call 9-to-5 jobs looking to supplement," Langley said. "[They're saying] 'Hey, can I jump on the floor and get a couple of shifts waiting tables to add some cash to my week?'"

With a seasonal staff of 40, Langley said he only has two or three jobs left to fill.

At the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, just three of 180 seasonal jobs are unfilled, said general manager Tina Hewett Gordon.

After two difficult summers in 2020 and 2021, Hewett Gordon said the resort decided to focus on attracting more employees instead of more business last year. They've hired people in recovery, and some workers are formerly incarcerated.

"We also look very heavily into working with retirees, with the younger adults," she said. "I feel as if we've sort of sowed the seeds in a lot of different gardens, and they've all really begun to grow."

About 100 workers this year are returning employees. Still, Hewett Gordon said it's difficult to find housing for workers who need it. She's hopeful, however, that an upcoming grant opportunity will make more funding available for her to begin recruiting from the Biddeford and Sanford regions, and provide transportation to those workers.