Wooing Puerto Rico’s Workers

Puerto Rico is wooing corporations and entrepreneurs, hoping that companies in the States will invest in Puerto Rico. At the same time, communities in the States are wooing Puerto Rico’s workers.

Take Branson, a resort town in the Ozarks that is facing a serious shortage of workers as their busy season approaches.

One “creative approach” to the problem, according to a report in the Washington Post, is recruiting workers from Puerto Rico. The town’s leaders plan to bring in 1,000 people from Puerto Rico to work in the tourist industry in this small town.

And one of the steps the town of Branson is taking is to help local business owners learn more about Hispanic people. Branson has very little cultural diversity; the vast majority of residents in the Ozarks are not only white, but descendants of Scotch-Irish immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries. While larger cities in the region have seen increases in Hispanic population in the 21st century, Branson (pop. 11,430) is still a fairly homogeneous town. Finding and keeping workers from Puerto Rico will have to include making the newcomers feel more at home, local leaders figure.

So business owners are paying $50.00 apiece to learn about Puerto Rican culture, in an effort to be welcoming to the newcomers Branson hopes to bring in. Workshops introduce locals to Puerto Rican food and music, and provide tips for helping Puerto Rican workers stay happy on the job.

There are some negative reactions to the idea. Some fear that workers from Puerto Rico will accept lower wages than local people and bring down the average wage (currently, workers in the tourist trade earn roughly $12.50 to $25.00 an hour in Branson). Others worry that workers from Puerto Rico will not stay for the long term. An investment in relocating workers to Branson could be expensive if the new hires stay for just one season.

In an effort to make their idea work, members of Branson’s Chamber of Commerce visited Puerto Rico. They came back with lists of grocery items they’re asking local stores to stock and ideas about ways to make workers from Puerto Rico feel at home in Branson.

Other communities in various states have offered relocation funds, assistance with finding homes, and even cars in their efforts to entice Puerto Rican workers. Jobs in the states also often offer higher wages than are usually paid in Puerto Rico. Since it’s more difficult now to get visas for foreign workers, communities that have trouble filling jobs locally are looking toward Puerto Rico. People born in Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States, so visas are not needed. As the idea that hiring from the hurricane-devastated island is a win-win for communities in the States and displaced workers in Puerto Rico spreads, more towns will make these efforts.

Puerto Rico is threatened by a dwindling population as more people leave the Island for the States. As stateside communities see Puerto Rico as an easy source of workers, the problem could increase. History has shown that statehood leads to population increases in territories, as well as increasing job opportunities and economic growth. Do we have time to delay? Obviously not. Tell your congressional representatives that you want to see statehood for Puerto Rico now.

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