MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s hospitality industry says it lost $11 billion over the past year.

Now, as the state’s restrictions ease up, restaurants, hotels and resorts are looking to fill jobs — fast. And that means companies are getting creative to bring in staff.

READ MORE: ‘Now We’re Able To Make A Living Income Doing What We Love’: New Legislation Caps Cottage Food Salary

The area hardest hit in Minnesota over the last year was the food and service industry. Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, spoke about the employment situation Sunday morning on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

“Roughly eight to 10 million Americans ought to be working right now if the COVID crisis had not happened,” Kashkari said. “We still need to do everything we can to put those folks back to work more quickly.”

About one in 10 Minnesotans have hospitality jobs. Right now, there’s around 100,000 openings, and not enough people to fill them. WCCO spoke with Liz Rammer, president and CEO of the trade organization Hospital Minnesota.

(credit: CBS)

“You don’t just turn a light switch on and it’s all back,” Rammer said. “Yes, it’s going to be a different summer, with full opening and knowing the demand for leisure travel.”

READ MORE: Pamela Espeland, Twin Cities Art Journalism Icon, Dies

That means more incentives for students and others looking for a part-time or new full-time job. Places like ValleyFair are offering $15 an hour for workers, plus scholarship opportunities. Others are enticing employees with signing bonuses, hours that are more flexible and higher wages.

And it’s not just in the Twin Cities. Resorts, hotels and restaurants in greater Minnesota also need the seasonal help. As vaccination rates climb, people are traveling more, eating out and seeking out more ways to be entertained.

“That’s why getting schools fully reopened, getting kids vaccinated, that’s also going to be key to really restoring our economy and getting back to full productivity,” Kashkari said.

Rammer says the light at the end of the tunnel is finally visible.

“There’s still a lot of challenges ahead, but I think the overall tenor is genuine happiness that they can see brighter days ahead,” Rammer said.

MORE NEWS: Allina's Buffalo Clinic Reopens With Renovations Months After Deadly Shooting

Kashkari said some people are choosing not to return to the workforce yet because they can make more money through the enhanced federal unemployment.

Jeff Wagner