EDITORIAL : No help, no housing: Ely faces some monster challenges during busy summer
Right now it’s hard to determine what’s harder to find in Ely: an available, affordable place to live, or a table at a local restaurant at 6 p.m. just about any night of the week.
Both are in scarce, scarce supply, as anyone looking to eat out or for a place to live can attest.
Both are also interrelated, and an obvious hindrance to Ely’s efforts to get back on its feet, return to normal and get economic development moving again in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pademic.
Let’s start with the positives. It’s great to see Ely bustling with activity again.
Last summer was busy even in spite of the pandemic and our town welcomed summer residents and thousands of visitors, some who found Ely for the first time as they opted for shorter trips or were looking for a new spot once Canada closed its borders.
Yet even before a crazy busy Memorial Day weekend in the Ely area, it was obvious that 2021 would be even more hectic on Sheridan Street.
Many who vacationed here a year ago have already come back, and they’ve been joined by those itching to get moving again after a summer at home.
More bodies means more traffic and means more money in town.
That’s exactly what any business onwer would want, right?
But this year, up and down Sheridan and beyond, whether they’re selling lunch or dinner or bait or groceries, Ely’s business community is universally dealing with a major problem - a lack of employees.
Help Wanted signs can be found everywhere as there are simply more jobs available than people to fill them.
The ripple effects have already started and are being felt.
We know of businesses that have reduced hours, restaurants that have curtailed breakfast or are closing entirely one or more days a week, and others operating at far less than ideal staffing simply because they can’t find help.
Whether it’s the pandemic, the continued availability of enhanced unemployment benefits, a smaller pool of teenage and young adult workers, the unavailability of international workers, or all of the above - it has been noticeable all over Ely and may only get more difficult as traffic to town grows in July and August.
Waiting an hour or more for a table at a restaurant may become commonplace, if you can get a table at all.
Get used to standing in line a little longer, whether it’s at the grocery store or the gas station, and please, be patient and courteous with already overworked and overstressed business owners and their staff.
This is far from ideal, not only for visitors to Ely and locals looking for a night out, but for Ely’s businesses.
Summer is the time to maximize profits, take advantage of the busy season and pump out products and services to offset those long winter months.
Each extended wait, each day closed, each hour not open are lost opportunities for every business in town and for Ely as a whole.
Hand-in-hand with the lack of employees is the lack of housing in Ely at the moment.
Homes are being sold within days of going on the market, at times above asking prices and far above totals seen here a year ago or five years ago.
That too plays a part of the labor shortage in town as even if a business could find two or four new employees to take one of any vacant positions, where would they find a place to live?
There don’t seem to be easy solutions to these problems but problems they are, and until they’re solved they stand as roadblocks on Ely’s road to prosperity.
Whether it’s the city of Ely through its economic development authority or the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, or a partnership involving both or additional entities, putting workers in open positions and creating more housing opportunities should be at the top of any priority list.
The people have indeed come to Ely. Now we need to give them every reason to stay and return with their vacation dollars, and perhaps even to return and live and contribute further to our community.
In the meantime, let’s cut those businesses who are open some slack. They’re doing the best they can.