Cody Country Chamber of Commerce: “No Magic Bullet”
Written by Wyatt Burichka on June 28, 2021
As local businesses struggle with staff shortages, the Cody Chamber of Commerce is doing what it can to help with a “systemic problem” that won’t fade away.
Cody businesses continue to struggle with a shortage of summer employees combined with the inability to receive foreign workers. Businesses – like local restaurant Zapata’s – are wondering what local leaders are doing to assist them during this seasonal staff “pandemic.”
The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce is a leader in the business community in the town. Its mission states “The Community of Cody will prosper as the premier western location for business and travel through the advocacy of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce.”
Tina Hoebelheinrich, the executive director of the Cody Chamber of Commerce, is monitoring the staff shortage situation closely. She wants to actively understand the issue instead of just glancing at it and moving on.
“I think you have to understand the problem. And it would be easy to you know, try and armchair quarterback something and, and pretend like I knew all of the answers, but, I don’t understand the problem as well as we need to. I think there are a lot of people, you know, throwing stuff out that they think is the answer they think is the problem,” Hoebelheinrich said. “But I’m really looking forward to really digging deep and figuring out what the problem is. And not just anecdotally, but looking at statistics and looking at workers and, and understanding what the problem is before we try and come up with solutions that may or may not work.”
Hoeblehienrich points out many factors are contributing to the shortage of staff in Cody. Some of those factors include housing and the J-1 and H2B programs, which are preventing people from coming to the United States for seasonal jobs.
The staff shortages are not a pandemic problem – Cody business owners have been dealing with the inability to get enough workers for several years thanks to federal policy.
According to Hoebelheinrich, the issues started in 2018 when former President, Donald J. Trump tightened visa restrictions for foreign workers coming to the United States. With the addition of the COVID-19 pandemic, the issues have only gotten worse.
“We really started advocating for business two years ago. The issue started back under the Trump Administration where they pulled back the number of foreign workers that were allowed in.”
The H2B and J1 programs only a certain amount of foreign workers to enter the U.S. every year. Workers who have participated in the program for years historically didn’t count towards that quota.
Now, they do.
“When the changes came into effect, we had an extreme shortage of foreign workers that summer,” says Hoebelheinrich. “Hotels leaders who were expected to have foreign workers come, those programs knew their allocations were denied because they met the maximums.”
The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce is not a sponsor of programs like J-1 or H2B but serves as an advocate for larger business issues.
“We are not a sponsor because they would come work for us. It has to be a direct employer who is the sponsor,” says Hoebelheinrich.
Resources the Cody Chamber created to support businesses during the pandemic are evolving to provide information and resources to benefit the community post-pandemic.
“We developed Cody Country Curbside (on Facebook,)” Hoebelheinrich says. “During the pandemic, of course, if their dining rooms were able to open up or if their services were modified, somehow, it was a place for them to communicate that. (Now) it is a resource for all business owners to communicate changes and hours, daily specials. So it is a page that we continue to support for the whole community. Because the reality of it is we’re still seeing restaurants who are closed Monday, Tuesdays, some are closed Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Hoebelheinrich added that this is going to a problem that Cody will deal with for years to come. In a community with a lack of high-paying full-time jobs, there will always be a need for seasonal employees.
“It’s a systemic issue,” Hoebelheinrich says.
“People are going to have a hard time staying in Cody if housing prices continue to grow,” Hoebelheinrich said. “Minimum wage and people who have multiple jobs will have a hard time staying if we can not provide affordable places to live,” Hoebelheinrich added on
Hoebelheinrich says the community is responding well with some closures of restaurants.
“We’ve seen some great community response to that, with the food trucks – that little rendezvous on Monday nights. That is a fantastic community response to restaurants being closed,” says Hoebelheinrich.
This shortage of staff isn’t only in the City of Cody – it’s a national “pandemic” getting significant attention.
Hoebelheinrich will be working with other chamber members nationally in the ongoing effort to understand and create solutions to ongoing employment issues.
“I have been chosen to participate in a US Chamber of Commerce fellowship. This workforce issue is really affecting lots of communities across the country. And so the US Chamber of Commerce has developed a fellowship that’s in its fifth cohort. I’m one of 35 people from across the country who will be studying workforce issues and how you can affect change in your local community. Because the hard answer is – there’s no one magic bullet,” Hoebelheinrich said.
(This is part of a series covering unemployment issues for Cody during Summer 2021. You can the last article about this topic below.)