State Fair vendors face unique challenges of finding employees

The Great Minnesota Get Together brings hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans to the state fair grounds for the "12 best days of summer." But in this tight job market, can vendors find enough workers to serve up all the food on a stick that fair goers have come to love?

With COVID-19 surging in 2021, some vendors were having a tough time finding enough employees to work at the State Fair. While it’s a little early to tell how well hiring is going so far this year, it often depends on who you ask.

"We're a little low right now," said Michael Wentzien, who needs to hire about 40 employees to run his San Felipe Tacos stand in its new location outside the grandstand.

He says applications are down 30-35% from where they usually are this time of year, making him nervous about finding enough staff before the gates open in just a few weeks.

"I think it’s tough in the marketplace right now. There are jobs right around where people live and pay a lot," he said. "The supply is low and demand is high for jobs so it’s creating a little toughness for us at the fair."

But it’s a much different story at the corn roast stand, where owners usually hire about 200 employees to shuck, roast and butter a fair favorite – things are looking much better this year than last year.

Libby Huettl says last year was the first time the vendor had trouble finding workers, so they started having dance teams and their parents put in volunteer hours as a fundraiser for their teams – a practice that will continue at this year's fair.

"We're really optimistic we're going to be all set," she said. "We won't know until first week of August, but things are looking good at this point."

Both vendors say they will have to raise wages to attract enough workers.

The state fair itself is also hiring a variety of positions right now, and will have a job fair at the end of the month.