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Without Migrant Labor, a Minnesota Resort’s 460 U.S. Workers at Risk

Ben Thuringer is the managing director of Madden’s on Gull Lake, a resort founded by his grandfather in 1929 in the Brainerd Lakes Region of Central Minnesota. The family resort is a seasonal getaway, operating April through October, with more than 1,000 acres and 283 rooms. “Of the 520 people we employ each season, 58 are workers here on H-2B temporary work visas, some who’ve been with us for 15 years,” Thuringer says.

But this year, a sudden change in the H-2B program has left returning workers, who in previous years have received expedited approval, stuck in limbo, potentially leaving Thuringer without a workforce. “We’re wondering at this point how we’re going to open our doors,” he says. “Worst case scenario, our local employees will work 100 hours a week just so we can keep up. And that’s no fun for anyone.”

I’ve spoken to landscapers, farmers, and beyond. We all need help, and we all need more H-2Bs.

Thuringer has long relied on skilled workers from outside the country — most of his chefs and bartenders come from Jamaica — and notes that the necessity for foreign guest labor has only grown in recent years. “We try to recruit workers locally, and in 2009 participated in a job fair and received 300 applications. This year, we did the same fair, and had five,” he says. In addition to temporary workers, immigrants — those who stay and live in the district  —  also not only help solve a workforce shortage, they also pump additional money into their communities: In Thuringer’s congressional district, the immigrant population pays nearly $67 million in annual taxes and accounts for $182 million in annual spending power, according to New American Economy research.

At this point, the H-2B program for temporary workers is a lifesaver for Madden’s resort. But without an exemption for returning workers, which Congress did not renew for 2017, Thuringer may not have enough employees to provide the level of hospitality that keeps his guests coming back each year. In short, Thuringer needs these foreign workers to help maintain the business at hand — and to keep his American workers employed. His friends and colleagues in Brainerd are in similar situations. “Everyone needs workers,” he says. “I’ve spoken to landscapers, farmers, and beyond. We all need help, and we all need more H-2Bs.”

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