Branson initiative brings Puerto Rican workers to the Ozarks

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BRANSON, Mo. (KY3) - As the busy tourism season arrives, business owners are struggling to find enough help to meet the demand. However, local leaders are finding a solution to the labor shortage in Puerto Rico.

Each year, millions of tourists come to the Ozarks.

"There are lots of things to do," Becky Johanson said.

"We love the restaurants, we love the shows," Lisa Fox said.

While area business owners are glad that visitors are coming, finding workers has been challenging.

"In peak season, we have probably about 1,000 job openings in the market," said Heather Hardinger, with the Taney County Partnership..

Hardinger says, in previous years, a lot of those jobs were filled by foreign employees. However, this year, many of those workers ran into trouble getting visas.

"Folks from all across the U.S. have been using Puerto Rico as a place to source talent. It's easier to access than some of the other international talent that's out there," Hardinger said.

That's why city representatives and business owners held career fairs in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

"We have, probably, in total 20 - 25 folks that are here already," Express Employment Professionals owner Kevin McConnell said.

McConnell says more Puerto Ricans are coming each week.

"So, as opposed to filling jobs that other people would do, these are literally just trying to help, because of the people we weren't able to get into the area," McConnell said.

Every year, about eight million people visit Branson, but the busy season actually doesn't end when summer ends. So, some of the Puerto Rican workers will likely be a little longer term.

"There's a lot of need for that nine-month employment," Hardinger said.

It's a program that's creating opportunities not only for Branson businesses, but also the people whom they hire.

"The win-win is that they're jobs we can't fill locally, so for folks to really feel like there's some opportunity to come here and possibly have a better life, it's fantastic," McConnell said.

Hardinger says businesses aren't just trying to hire workers from outside the area. Employers welcome anyone who lives locally to look to Branson for their next job.

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