Branson wants permanent job recruiting relationship with Puerto Rico

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Branson is working on establishing a permanent job recruiting relationship with the island of Puerto Rico after their initial attempts at getting seasonal employees from that U.S. territory proved successful.

One of the critical factors in Branson's tourist industry is finding those seasonal employees, mainly in the service industry.

"Positions of housekeeping and grounds, stewards, dish washing and cooks," explained Kevin McConnell, a Branson city councilman who also works for the Express Employment Professionals who are recruiting in Puerto Rico.

Branson has around 2,000 jobs to fill and 200 new employees have come from the hurricane-ravaged island where many residents were looking for new opportunities.

"Absolutely it's a win-win," McConnell said. "It really hits you when you're standing at the airport picking up folks from Puerto Rico and they say, 'you know what, I'm glad to be here and I'm glad my family's here. Or my goal is to work, save some money, and bring my family here.' "

And to those who think that recruiting from outside the Ozarks is taking away jobs from local folks?

"It's a question that should be asked," McConnell said. "But we have eight million visitors a year, we're living in a town of 10,000 people. There aren't enough people to do the jobs and unfortunately I talk with folks almost on a daily basis that are unwilling to do the jobs that we have open in our market."

The supply pool is shrinking," added Jonas Arrjes, the executive director of the Taney County Partnership. "And the demand is increasing. So that supply and demand delta is going to continue to grow."

Officials don't plan on Puerto Rico being the sole answer to their job market woes. But their six visits there have shown that both sides of benefited from the relationship and they want to make it a permanent one.

Because when it comes to filling Branson's service industry jobs, observers are "very concerned," Arjes said.

Why? Because the tourism industry could suffer greatly if those jobs can't be filled.

"That could be as simple a thing as a wait time at a restaurant, the cleanliness of a room, the smiling face of that frontline staff person that welcomes them to the facility or the community," Arjes explained. "And if we lose that, that could set off panic."

More recruiting trips to Puerto Rico are planned for mid-February.