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MEDILL / Laurel White

Emmett McCarthy was hired by Big Fork Brands in February to help with the seasonal rush.

Bump in seasonal hiring not just a summer fling

by Laurel White
July 23, 2013

Big Fork Brands, a Chicago-based maker of bacon sausages, is hiring three times as many employees this summer compared to last year, according to owner Lance Avery.

Thirty new employees – compared with last year’s 10 summer hires – will be manning the Big Fork tent at farmer’s markets, festivals and grocery store demonstrations.

“Summer is our busy time,” said Avery. “I hire a ton of people for events – 20 or 25 for Lollapalooza,” the three-day music fest in Chicago's Grant Park August 2-4.

The bump in summer leisure hiring is not limited to Chicago. Across the country, thousands of new cooks, tour guides and hotel workers have shown up on employers’ payrolls.

In June alone, 75,000 jobs were added in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The industry appears to be in the midst of a boom, with an average monthly job gain this year so far of 55,000, nearly double the 30,000 average gain in last year’s first half.

There are two primary drivers for this trend, according to Adolfo Laurenti, deputy chief economist at Chicago-based Mesirow Financial – increased business travel and a boost in spending on vacations and other leisure activities.

“Businesses in general are beginning to resume normal operational conditions,” he said. “Up until last year there was really a focus on cost containment.”

Laurenti says that businesses beginning to loosen up their purse strings are more likely to send employees on business trips and to conferences, boosting demand for hotel and other travel services. Laurenti also pointed out that families are more likely to take vacations these days, thanks to the improving economic conditions.

“We are improving slowly and steadily,” he said. “These improvements are slowly beginning to create a critical mass of people traveling.”

And plenty of folks will need to be hired to entertain and serve the growing number of travelers.

Wendella Boats, a popular sightseeing attraction in Chicago, has hired about 50 new employees this summer, according to spokesman Gregg Pupecki.

“We hire a lot of people for the summer,” Pupecki said. “We hire again in August when the students go back to school.”

Travellers, of course, are prone to eating out. According to the BLS, 52,000 of the leisure and hospitality jobs added in June were in the “food and drink” category.

Munch, an Oak Park restaurant that specializes in vegetarian fare, has certainly seen a bump in business, according to employee Maya King.

Maya, whose grandmother owns Munch, says they’ve brought on an additional five or six employees this summer – mostly serving and cooking staff.

Laurenti doesn’t believe that the hiring jolt will prove to be a summer fling, however.

“I think this [growth] will be steady,” he said. “There may be a little [decline] in September when people go back to school and travel less – but I don’t think we will lose everything.”