Friday, February 15, 2002
Steamboat Springs Even though the economy is the worst it has been in a decade, many Steamboat businesses still looked overseas this winter to find workers.
It was not an orchestrated coup to take jobs from young Steamboat people; rather, the influx of foreign nationals was part of an economic necessity that keeps jobs filled in Steamboat during the busy seasons, local employers said.
With fewer jobs available because of the dip in the economy, some locals who have been able to get jobs in the past doing seasonal work may have had a little more trouble this year.
Maria Porter of Viable Resources, a local firm that helps foreign workers get through the visa process and into jobs, said the process of finding foreigners begins about four to five months before the employees are actually needed. That means many of the foreign workers had already secured jobs for the winter season in Steamboat before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which accelerated the economic decline.
"For winter visas, I start in August," Porter said, noting that she has already started working to get summer visas.
Even post-Sept. 11, however, the business community still needed to find a way to fill jobs that are harder to fill locally despite the economic downturn.
Trish Sullivan, the senior director of human resources for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., said Ski Corp. lowered the number of foreign nationals it was hiring by about 25 percent after Sept. 11, but still ended up hiring 257 people from other countries.
She said certain positions such as lift operators and cafeteria workers are difficult to fill with local residents, who often are not available to work full time through the winter. Still, less than half of the 160 lift operators hired this year are foreign nationals.
Ski Corp. also hires foreign nationals as ski and snowboard instructors, though it is beginning to recruit locally by holding workshops, Sullivan said. The company also recruits nationally, holding job fairs at Glacier and Yellowstone parks, among others, Sullivan said.
Locals still generally have first crack at the jobs, and if they come to the hiring office in summer or fall they can usually get a winter job. Once the winter job fair rolls around, however, jobs are somewhat scarcer, as they were this year.
Ski Corp. is still trying to do a lot of its hiring locally, and is already looking into how it will go about doing business next season.
"We're in the process of reassessing the international program to see what our needs will be for next winter," Sullivan said.
A number of other companies, hotels and organizations hire outside of the U.S.
The city of Steamboat Springs, for instance, tried to hire 10 Australians to drive buses this winter, though only six showed up after visa troubles. The city had trouble hiring locally for the past few years and Transportation Director George Krawzoff convinced the City Council to allow him to look outside the country.
McDonald's in Steamboat has 11 foreign workers on staff right now. Manager Dustin Stratton said it is difficult to find locals who are willing to work at the Steamboat McDonald's, because other seasonal jobs may draw them away. Locals often also want a free ski pass.
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