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As the minimum wage continues to increase in several states, and even fast-food restaurants are offering higher wages, how are winter resorts being affected—and how are they responding? SAM caught up with Richard Wren, director of guest services at Michigan's Boyne Highlands Resort, to understand the scope of the challenge and Boyne's reaction.

SAM: How is minimum wage issue impacting Boyne?

RW: Of course, just like anybody, if the wages go up, it's also going to drive up the cost to the guest, because we have to recoup the costs. The big question is, how do we increase the wages but also remain of value to our guests?

SAM: What impacts are you seeing currently?

RW: It's not just about wages going up. It's become harder to find qualified, competent staff. We're competing with entities we've never competed with before. There are more job openings than there are people to fill them. It's hard to find the people to fill the jobs at the wage we're offering when another entity right down the street is offering the same wage and requiring less of the employee. For example, Burger King had a sign in the window that said, “$11.40 an hour starting wage. Walk-in interviews.” It's hard for me to compete with that.

SAM: What problems do you see down the road?

RW: Will we be able to maintain the right number of staff for our needs and still offer the wages we need to provide? If we have to pay people more, can we have as many people working—or will we have to try and do more with less?

SAM: What is Boyne doing to compete with other companies, like McDonald's, that are offering higher wages?

RW: Our benefits, in terms of season pass and utilizing the resort activities, is a huge part of it. One of our mottoes is, “Live where you love to play,” and we translate that into, “Work where you love to play.” We are offering benefits like season passes, golf passes and activity passes, discounts on lodging for friends and family, and things like that.

SAM: Do you find the perks currently offered at Boyne help to offset lower wages or more demanding work?

RW: We think they do. But then again, they don't always, because some of our staff aren't here to become ski bums, they aren't all skiers or riders. If they're not already a skier, then a free season pass isn't necessarily enticing to that person. But we want them to be a skier or rider. We want them to bring their families out. We want them to have a good time. If they have good time here and they know how to enjoy the resort, then as soon as they see our guests, that excitement gets transferred to the guest from the employee.

SAM: How do you think you and other resort operators are going to be able to stay competitive in the years to come?

RW: We have to understand the needs and wants of our potential staff. What are they looking for in a job? How can we appeal to their needs and wants and also satisfy our needs and wants? Maybe it's not just offering a higher wage. What benefits are included in their position? Does the potential staff member want to have a ski pass? Or, are they looking for something else? If we're paying the same wage as someone down the street, what makes us more appealing?

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