Monmouth County government officials and restaurant leaders are excited to welcome residents and tourists in for some summer fun and good eats while also addressing the challenges ahead of the summer of 2021 with none bigger than the unemployment/staffing shortage.

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"Last year the challenge was trying to get these restaurants open, now it's trying to get them to be operational because of the staffing issue," Monmouth County Commissioner Director Tom Arnone said at a press conference in Avon-By-The-Sea.

Arnone says changes need to be made in the unemployment structure, which is also a reason some in the restaurant and hospitality industry believe there is a worker shortage.

For the week ending May 15, 17,840 New Jersey residents filed unemployment claims, according to the federal Department of Labor, which is an increase of 4,384 from the week prior.

Still, the staffing shortage has dealt a great blow to many restaurants struggling to stay open and operate.

"I actually have to close sections of my restaurant because I can't supply the demand. I do not have enough employees," Robert Kash of Great Restaurants NJ, who owns several restaurants in Monmouth County, said.

Joe Leone Introna, who owns Joe Leone’s Italian Specialties and Catering, has had the Help Wanted signs up at his businesses for a while now while simultaneously being a beacon of hope for the service industry including some of the restaurants, landscaping businesses, taxi companies and retail stores in Monmouth and Ocean Counties encouraging people to take jobs.

"Five weeks ago, I put a program together and basically had people take photographs around Monmouth an Ocean County of Help Wanted signs on all sorts of businesses from Wawa and CVS to all different types of food service industries. On Indeed, there's over 40,000 available in Monmouth County, there's hundreds of jobs available where you can walk in right now and get a job," Leone said at the press conference.

(Photo: Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media NJ)

He's helping others while trying to expose those trying to take advantage of unemployment programs and benefits including in some cases making a show effort to get a job.

"Employees are leaving with no notice, (people) are coming in and they're filling out applications or doing it online, they're not coming in for the interview...they're submitting that to unemployment, we have proof of that, they're getting the unemployment rates. There's definitely something that really needs to be looked at," Leone said.

At the press conference he handed the binder of his findings to Commissioner Arnone and said "I'd like to give you this book, if you could please give this to Governor Murphy for me and maybe he can take a look at that stuff."

In the midst of a staffing shortage and financial burdens, Commissioner Arnone said the county has rolled out a program through their Division of Workforce Development where before a business hires someone who may not have all the skills needed for a particular job, the county will pay 50-percent of the new hires salary up to $10,000 while they learn those skills on the job.

"We're looking at all these other initiatives to try and bring people back to the workforce but at the end of the day we're doing this for one reason....for the success and the economic engine of our businesses that we really rely on over the course of the year," Arnone said.

Employers can call the Monmouth County Division of Workforce Development at 732-683-8850.

As restaurants and businesses hope to build up their staff in the days and weeks to come, Dana Lancellotti, the President & CEO of New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, says it's great to have people coming back and restaurants opening for the summer season, but asks that you have patience when going out.

"We have to realize that a lot of these businesses are definitely going to struggle a bit, some of them very much, with the lack of labor to accommodate the demand," Lancellotti said. "When you go to the restaurants and when you go to order a drink and when you're enjoying the activities and the tourism attractions, please remember that you may have to wait a little longer, you may have to be a little more patient. These businesses are doing everything that they can with what they have and right now, we don't have a solution to the labor issues but we need to be out and do business and consume locally and enjoy tourism in our own backyard."

One of the other challenges and concerns facing Monmouth County towns and police departments this summer as well as those across the Jersey Shore is the legalization of recreational marijuana, which under the bill signed by Governor Murphy prevents police from questioning a minor over marijuana or alcohol use and threatens possible criminal charges against law enforcement officers for depravation of civil rights.

Many Shore towns across Monmouth and Ocean Counties have local ordinances on the books that doesn't allow smoking on beaches and boardwalks and it's something Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden encourages other towns to follow suit.

"So that at least our officers can lean on the local ordinance and not the state law which has really led to a difficult obstacle for law enforcement in enforcing that use, particularly the teenage use of marijuana and alcohol," Golden said. "We'll continue to work with all our local police departments up and down the shore."

As for the beach itself, Monmouth County saw record beach badge sales in 2019 at $23.7-million, prior to Covid, and surpassed that amount in 2020 despite the pandemic and restrictions in place but tourism sales by nearly 30-percent and visitor numbers by nearly 25 percent went down.

Commissioner Arnone expects beach numbers to rise again in 2021 as people head to the beach and perhaps tourism spending as well.

"Beach revenue went up, as we all know, and the others declined because of the limitations and that was only because of the limitations, so now with the limitations relaxed I'm sure the occupancy on the beach is going to stay the same or increase because people know that this has just become a destination here in Monmouth County," Arnone said.

In a previous interview with Townsquare Media News in December of 2020, Arnone encouraged people to have a staycation if possible this summer, while saying that, "I could never force somebody not to go on vacation with their families and I always welcome that, but the more they could stay here in the county to give back to our businesses will turn us around quicker than we have in the past or other counties have in the past. Monmouth County is a destination, there's not much we don't have and in some areas provide almost like an island type view and atmosphere."

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email news tips to vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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