Help Wanted: Hilton Head Island faces worker shortage

AP News
|
Posted: Aug 08, 2016 11:47 AM

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Help Wanted signs are posted across South Carolina's Hilton Head Island as employers say it's harder than ever to find hospitality workers.

The Island Packet of Hilton Head reports (http://bit.ly/2b0r8wf ) that while there were signs of the shortage about a decade ago, it is now is causing problems for hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

One hotel delayed the opening of a pool bar this year because it could find no one to staff it while another resort says it could use at least 50 more workers.

An estimated 8,400 workers are needed to serve a tourism industry that now attracts about 2.6 million visitors yearly.

The newspaper reports the worker shortage is expected to get worse as rents on the island increase and new jobs are created on the mainland, allowing some workers to avoid long commutes to Hilton Head.

The worry is that visitors to the upscale island may soon see the effects of the shortage.

"Today, what's happening behind the scenes is those employers are scrambling to find ways to get those positions filled," said Hilton Head Mayor David Bennett. "And at some point, it could be that they just aren't able to scramble anymore."

The newspaper reports that Aunt Chilada's Easy Street Cafe had its main dining room closed from May through mid-June because it was short on servers and hosts. A new Zaxby's restaurant opened a week behind schedule in April because it couldn't find enough staff, while Reilley's Bar and Grill has been looking for more than a year for a second chef.

"It's certainly not ideal and requires a lot more work than it should," said Tim Freisen, general manager of The Westin. He said at the start of the tourism season, the resort closes its seasonal restaurants two days a week because it doesn't have enough workers.

"Forget about getting qualified employees. Sometimes, you just need a warm body," added Steve Carb, president of Hilton Head's the SERG restaurant group, which operates six restaurants on the island.

Among the reasons for the shortage is the growth of Bluffton on the mainland side of the island.

"The reality is that it is absolutely cutting into who we're able to hire," said Jay Wiendl, general manager of The Sonesta Resort on Hilton Head.

Bluffton, which two decades ago was a sleepy town of about 1,300, now has nearly 17,000 residents. While in 2002, the town had about 1,400 restaurant jobs, it has more than 4,000.

"People are realizing: 'Why cross the bridge when I can just walk to work in Bluffton?'" said Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka.

Not only is it closer, Bluffton rents are generally cheaper for hospitality workers.

___

Information from: The Island Packet, http://www.islandpacket.com