Seabrook Uses J1 Visa Program & On-Site Housing to Solve Workforce Crunch
Seabrook is a planned beach community located on the Washington Coast. With over 500 homes, Seabrook’s vacation home rental business boomed during the pandemic. In 2021, during peak season at Seabrook, one-third of the cleaning staff was out sick with COVID.
“Trying to turn over homes and do the work was a challenge. We struggled to find people to come in and make beds, clean and take out the garbage. Occupancy was high. We had to pull people from other positions to do the work,” said Durk Johnson, Vice President of Hospitality at Seabrook Land Company.
Seabrook faced a challenge—how could they maintain staffing levels during a pandemic? Also, how could they find workforce when the only affordable housing was 45 miles away?
Johnson saw these challenges as opportunities. With an MBA from The École hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland, he is familiar with international solutions, so he reached out to the J1 Visa program. The J-1 Visa offers cultural and educational exchange opportunities in the United States through various programs overseen by the U.S. State Department.
“The program is simple—international college students would come and work for two months at Seabrook during peak season and then travel for one month,” Johnson explained.
During the first summer, the program helped recruit 42 students from the Czech Republic, Mexico, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.
“To make this work, we needed a place to house the students. The Sandpiper was a quarter mile from Seabrook, so we took this property for housing. We also had a house at Pacific Beach to house more people,” said Johnson.
The Sandpiper also allowed Seabrook to assist long-term employees with housing.
The J1 program was a huge success. “I wanted to expand the world view of my Grays Harbor-based employees. Working alongside students from other countries was an incredible experience for us. There were a lot of tears when the students left at the end of the season,” he said.
This success is leading to a much larger workforce housing innovation and investment. Not only is Seabrook planning to continue the J1 Visa program, but they are now also building their own apartments nearby to house workforce.