With 72 hours ’til opening day, the Minnesota State Fair is short of workers

On Aug. 16, the Star Tribune reported that with just a week to the state Fair opening, vendors were having a hard time attracting workers.

With the Minnesota State Fair opening next week, perennial top vendor Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar is still looking for 100 workers to help serve heaping buckets of chocolate chip cookies.

Hot Indian Foods’ executive chef Janene Holig has bumped up wages to $17-$20 an hour, borrowed staff from her regular restaurants, and “called in a lot of personal favors” to get some chef friends to pull double shifts at her State Fair booth. But she still needs 18 more workers.

Last week, Mark Andrew, a vendor at the fair for 49 years, blasted out an e-mail to about 60 friends pleading for people who might be willing to work. “In all my decades as a biz owner at the Minnesota State Fair, I have NEVER had a shortage of help,” he wrote. “Until now.”

And just two days later, Fair officials announced that the Minnesota State Fair will not enforce a universal mask mandate. Reason being? They will not be able to find enough workers to do the enforcement.

“We’re having enough of a time finding people to do the fun jobs at the fair to find what would be hundreds to do an effective mandate — is just something that’s not going to happen, can’t,” he said.

The situation has not improved. With the fair just a few days away, reports are coming in that numerous vendors have opted out this year partly because they cannot find workers.

Businesses are being squeezed by worker shortage

Minnesota State Fair vendors are not alone in this. According to Bring me the news, “Duffy’s Bar and Grill in Osseo recently decided to close on Mondays and cut its menu by about 50% due to ongoing staffing shortages.”

“Due to the extreme labor shortage, we are going have to make a couple very temporary changes to our hours and menu. This is the last thing that we wanted to do,” Duffy’s said on Facebook last week. “We have amazing people working in our kitchen and it would be unfair to them to continue to ask them to work 6-plus day weeks or 11 days in a row. We love our staff here at Duffy’s and want them here for years to come!!”

Duffy’s had previously posted about the need to hire a couple of line cooks who could start right away. Duffy’s told FOX 9 they’re offering $15 or more an hour to start — no experience necessary, but they can’t find anyone interested in back-of-the-house positions.

Other businesses, like Chipotle, for example, which usually operates till 10 pm cut hours citing worker shortage with some of its branches operating only up to 8 pm. Even the Minneapolis Airport, which has jobs starting at almost $15 is missing workers. Currently, the airport is looking for 750 full-time, part-time, and seasonal positions.

If you have had the chance to go to Pizza hut recently, chances are your receipt came with a “HIRING NOW” word box. Not only that, but help wanted signs are everywhere you go.

Why you should be worried

The Minnesota state fair is a boon to our economy. In 2018, for example, all-year operations from the state ground fair had a direct economic impact of about $268 million to the twin cities, of which $127 million was “operating revenues and resulting local expenditures
of the 12-day Minnesota State Fair”.

This shortage of workers at the state fair is a loss not only to the businesses involved but to Minnesota’s economy as a whole. Of course, we cannot deny that with COVID-19 still presenting a threat, we were potentially going to see a reduced attendance this year, as people take their own precautionary measures.

Regardless, government action is still to blame for some of the losses that we will incur due to reduced economic activity at the fair. Generous and expanded unemployment benefits have had a huge impact on making people stay home as opposed to looking for jobs.

And while we can take solace in the fact that the hiring crisis might be alleviated in the coming weeks as expanded unemployment ends, the losses that businesses and the economy have suffered will likely not be recovered.