Tahoe’s waning local workforce | SierraSun.com

Tahoe’s waning local workforce

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra SunNedko Bozadzhiev and Boris Gegov, both from Bulgaria, are working at the deli in the PDQ Market in Tahoma Monday afternoon. It is the first summer Bozadzhiev and Gegov have worked in Tahoe.
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Bulgaria, Russia and Poland are making a stronger presence in the North Lake Tahoe and Truckee region this summer.

Students from all over the world, and particularly Eastern Europe, are working at jobs that employers say local residents won’t take.

Mary Hatton, manager of PDQ Market in Tahoma, has had trouble staffing during the demanding summer months ” but not anymore.

“I had ‘help wanted’ up all summer long. So did everyone on the lake. Everywhere you went you saw ‘help wanted’ signs,” Hatton said.

So the business turned to a company called CNET for help hiring college students from abroad.

“They don’t call in sick, they’re always early and they want to work more than 40 hours ” where are you going to find that in the United States?” said Hatton.

Hatton describes the current employment situation as 180 degrees different from the Tahoe of 20 years ago.

“The West Shore used to fill up with college kids … now they can’t afford to come up here because there’s nowhere for them to live,” she said.

“I’d love to hire some local people, but there aren’t any here!” she added.

The Tahoma market isn’t the only place hiring foreign students to fill employment gaps. Local grocery stores also bring in students from abroad through placement programs like Cultural Homestay International, which has also been used by Boreal and Soda Springs ski areas.

Tom Brooks, Albertsons store director in Tahoe City, said the demographics of Tahoe-Truckee make hiring solid workers particularly difficult. But with the help of Cultural Homestay International, Albertsons has the help it needs during the busy seasons.

Brooks describes the nearly 40 European and South American employees as bright, amiable and hard-working.

“I couldn’t survive without them,” he said.

But Save Mart Supermarkets spokeswoman Alicia Rockwell, the company that now owns the local Albertsons stores, said that hiring foreigners has more to do with peak season demand than with a lack of good help.

“It really is a win-win ” these folks need something to do and some income while they are here. We can’t possibly find enough people locally to fill that extra spike in [business],” said Rockwell.

Putnam Window Cleaning, a small Tahoe City-based operation run by John Putnam, has also had its fair share of workforce woes. Putnam doesn’t necessarily recruit foreign employees but reports having good luck with the ones who worked under him.

“I did hire a Romanian guy this year, and partly because I have such trouble getting normal American folks to be interested in any kind of a labor job,” Putnam said.

“As far as work ethic, at least in my limited experience, it’s as good or better than the Americans I’ve hired,” he added.

Putnam describes Lake Tahoe as the “party capital of the Western United States,” which he explains as the source of trouble in hiring local residents.

“They want the money but they don’t want the work to interfere [with the lifestyle],” he said.

All the businesses interviewed for this story said they are more than willing, even prefer, to hire local residents.

“If I could find an American that could stay with us, it would be great … because these people will be leaving and then we’ll be without help,” Bragg said.

Rockwell agreed.

“We’re always looking for good year-round help,” she said.