BRANSON, Mo. — A popular Missouri tourist destination feels the pain as it tries fill jobs ahead of the busy summer vacation season.
Millions of people visit Branson every year. Some to see a live show, visit Silver Dollar City, or even to shop or head to the lake.
In 2020, the pandemic caused fewer people to visit Branson, making it tough for some businesses to stay open.
This year it’s a different type of problem.
Many of the businesses that struggled to stay open last year are now struggling to find enough employees to keep places open in 2021.
“I talked to a guy who runs a chain of hotels, he said our problem is not the customers anymore it’s being able to handle the customers,” U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R — Missouri, said. “He said we could rent more rooms, we could fill more rooms, if we could clean more rooms, and we’re having to turn people away because we don’t have the staff it takes to run the hotel the way we need to run it.”
Blunt said the only way to get people to return to work is for states to opt out of federal COVID-19 unemployment benefits. Those benefits put an extra $300 a week into the pockets of people who can’t find work.
Blunt, and other Republicans, have introduced legislation to end the enhanced unemployment benefits. It doesn’t matter in Missouri and 20 other states. Those governors have already announced they will opt out of the federal funding.
Branson’s mayor applauded Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s decision. He said Branson’s economy depends on businesses and attractions.
Hotels and restaurants aren’t the only places hard up for employees. Silver Dollar City said it could also use additional help.
“I talked to a person last week who runs a theme park in Branson, Missouri, been there for years, one of the great theme parks in the country, Silver Dollar City,” Blunt said. “He said we could hire 150 people in the morning if we could find them.”
Democrats argue that it’s not the extra unemployment that’s causing the problem. They say it’s because businesses aren’t paying employees enough.
Branson’s Convention and Visitors Bureau said this hasn’t been an issue just since the pandemic started, it was also a problem to find enough workers in 2019.