LACONIA — With Motorcycle Week looming this weekend, Cynthia Makris is a little concerned.
The Naswa Resort, run by the Makris family since 1935, has about 140 positions in areas such as housekeeping, security, maintenance and grounds keeping. The business is short about 50 employees.
Her story is being repeated all over the Lakes Region as businesses gear up for the summer season amid a 2.6 percent unemployment rate in Belknap County.
“It has gotten much worse, all across the country,” Makris said Wednesday. “There is a workforce crisis across America.”
Makris relies on foreign workers for the tourist season, but that has been problematic as well.
She gets workers from Jamaica through the H-2B seasonal worker program.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Congress placed an annual cap on the program of 66,000 people, 33,000 for the first half of the fiscal year (Oct. 1-March 31) amd 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the second half of the fiscal year (April 1-Sept. 30).
The number of people applying for the program greatly exceed the cap.
“Congress has the power to increase the cap, but hasn’t done so,” Makris said. “The cap is not enough. The U.S. needs temporary seasonal workers.
“These people come here and fill jobs no one else is willing to do. They are trying to better their lives. They make money, go back to their countries and apply again.
“We’ve been doing the program for 21 years, and the last two years we’ve been shut out of the cap.”
On May 8, the Department of Homeland Security and the Labor Department increased the cap on H-2B visas by up to 30,000 through the end of the fiscal year.
The additional visas are available only to businesses which attest that they will likely suffer irreparable harm without the ability to employ all the H-2B workers they requested.
Visas are available only for workers who received H-2B status in one of the last three fiscal years.
Last year, the government added 15,000 visas in May but didn’t issue them until July.
“We got workers July 23, which is late in the season for us,” Makris said.
This year, Makris said the cap extension will allow her to get 16 workers.
“We are still waiting for those people to get passports and visas at the U.S. embassy in Jamaica,” she said. “We are trying desperately to get them in for before Motorcycle Week.”
Makris is also waiting for about 20 workers who will be coming in on student visas.
This year she is also bringing in workers from Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory. People born there are U.S. citizens, so they don’t need a visa to work here.
She also looks for prospective employees around the country.
Nathan Woodward came from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to work at the Naswa Resort this summer. He said it was a great opportunity for him and his family.
"I've got my kids at home, two daughters. I'm here to work for them, make sure their future is right. I do everything I can for them, that's why I'm here," Woodward said.
Kirkland Reid started working at the resort in 2005. Then, he was a Jamaican resident working through the visa program.
In 2010, he got his Green Card, allowing him to live permanently in the United States. He is now the chief engineer for the resort.
A more recent employee is Nelson Torres, who was born in New York City but later lived in Puerto Rico. Torres helped Cynthia Makris connect with a university on the island, and that relationship has led to 12 hospitality students coming to work at the resort this summer.
"I saw it as a good opportunity. If you come here, you're going to learn quick, because this place is hopping in the summer," Torres said.
Karmen Gifford, president of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, said 40 local employers looking for new employees participated in a job fair two weeks ago.
“We know there are way more employers looking to fill positions than there are job seekers,” she said. “Across the U.S., there are more jobs than there are job seekers.”
Gifford has been participating in a program that seeks to identify future labor needs and works to build a skilled workforce to fulfill those needs.
The medical field and nursing in particular have a strong demand for workers.
“They can’t get enough nurses,” she said. “Schools are starting to graduate more, but they are new, without the experience that might be required.
“There’s also a high demand for landscaping workers. This can be a skilled, year-round position.”