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Jordan chalk artist, 14, specializes in sidewalk masterpieces

Though she's not even old enough for a driver's permit, Allison Olstad, of Jordan, has crossed state lines to compete in art festivals that draw competitors from across the United States and even internationally.

Unfortunately for fans, none of that artwork exists anymore: It was all washed away in the first rain after the chalk art festival. 

Her first introduction to the ephemeral medium was at a summer camp with Minnesota muralist Sean McCann. She had worked with chalk art before, Allison said, but after the summer camp, her creativity "just took off."

"It's super relaxing for me and I can really express myself without talking about it," she explained.

At chalk festivals, though, talking to passersby is a core part of the experience.

When she first chalked with an audience at age 10, Allison answered the crowd's questions, but didn't know how to elaborate or draw the conversations out, she said. At the dozens of festivals she's attended since, she's learned how to answer questions "to have more of a conversation," she added.

The payoff is seeing strangers engage with each other and bond over their shared love of art, like at the first Arbor Lakes chalk festival she attended.

"You could tell they weren't together but you could hear them talking to each other," Allison recalled.

"It's been fun to watch her grow and change in her own art," said Stephanie Olstad, Allison's mother. "I definitely think it's helped her grow in communication and public speaking."

Allison's next event is the Arbor Lakes Chalkfest on Main Street in Maple Grove over Labor Day weekend. Her first step at any festival, be it in North Dakota or Ohio, is to "scope out the place," Allison explained, where "you see the potential that the weekend will hold."

The "chalk family" of artists, as the Olstads call the regular crowd of artists, range from 14 (Allison) at the youngest to artists in their 60s. The best part of any festival is talking to her fellow artists, Allison said, and she keeps in touch with many of them, even though they're scattered across the country.

Teaching and learning

Allison and Stephanie work with the various parks and recreation departments, where they offer classes to find time and space for the expansive art form.

Locations are generally easy to find − though Allison did once find herself and her campers kneeling on grass to sketch on a slim stretch of sidewalk − and weather is even more unpredictable. At the weeklong camp she taught in Jordan a few years ago, it rained three out of the five days of camp, Allison said.

She begins camp by sharing her own story of how she got into chalking, and she demonstrates some of the core techniques − gridding, blending − to get the kids started.

"It helps them see that they can do it before they get into the final piece, and it gives them that confidence," she explained. "I show them things and they take it from there."

Students come from all over Minnesota and occasionally cross state lines to attend the Olstads' class. Several kids have hailed from South Dakota and as far away as Montana, and a set of cousins from St. Cloud once told Allison they'd planned their visit to family in the Twin Cities in order to attend the camp, Allison said.

It's not just the draw from faraway cities that demonstrates chalk art's draw. Many of Allison's students are repeat visitors, including one girl who's attended nearly every camp, Allison said. The student's experience has given her the confidence to branch out artistically and try untested approaches to an artwork.

"She's not afraid to ask about things that would take her that extra step," Allison said, and "there's no way you can go wrong by getting into chalk."

Allison takes notes from the campers' innovations, too. She's seen some successes (and some frustration) come from students who tackle an artwork one grid-square at a time, rather than sketching the whole outline first.

One student started out the piece with highlights instead of base colors, a technique that Allison is intrigued by and intends to test out in her own work − though not in front of a crowd, she said.

At a Prior Lake chalk camp in mid-August − the last one of the summer − all the students were new to chalk art. As they crouched on knee pads and carefully blended a corner or laid down a final touch their grown-ups arrived and began perusing the collection of drawings.

Though the art wouldn't last long, it turned the corner of Main Ave and Dakota Street into a horizontal gallery of artwork.


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Worker shortage challenges employers in Carver, Scott counties

Buckingham Companies Vice President Mike Buckingham-Hayes.

Familiar signs plaster the windows of businesses and services all over Scott and Carver counties: Help Wanted. Now Hiring. Apply Here.

A large increase in open positions and a drastic lack of job-seekers make for a worker shortage that spans all industries across the two counties, straining small businesses and community service areas alike.

Scott County Business Development Specialist Jo Foust said 4,486 jobs within the county had been posted online within a 30-day period this summer.

Carver County Income Support Manager Kate Probert Fagundes provided a TalentNeuron report that listed 9,455 job postings in the county between Dec. 1, 2020 and June 2, 2021, a 10% increase from the previous year.

COMMUNITY SERVICE EMPLOYMENT

Shakopee Director of Parks and Recreation Jay Tobin said while many positions are available and nearly everyone is hiring, the real problem is a lack of applicants for the available jobs, especially in the community service area.

Filling the positions necessary to provide the expected programs and services has proved a challenge, especially in terms of public safety. Lifeguards, ice rink employees and guest service area job searches have yielded unpromising results. One entrance to the city’s community center was forced to resort to reduced hours due to a lack of staffing.

The competition for employees is fierce, said Tobin, as nearly every restaurant, store and other institution seeks to hire. Even before the pandemic, guest service-related jobs were a challenge to fill due to the demands of interacting with customers.

“The kind of services that we deliver take a certain skill set that not everyone’s comfortable with, and I think that’s part of our challenge, too,” Tobin said. “People need to be comfortable engaging with the public, confident in their ability to deliver, and able to operate with a degree of independence.”

“I’m proud of my department and proud of Shakopee as a city in our response during the pandemic,” Tobin said. “When under COVID (restrictions), we were having to adjust our protocols, adjust our processes on a regular basis without a lot of long-term notice. Right now, I guess other than the staffing shortage, my team and I are very happy to be able to operate with some degree of normalcy.”

Tobin and his team are prepared for the possibility that this lack of staffing becomes the new normal.

HOSPITALITY AND TOURISM

Both Probert Fagundes and Shakopee Chamber of Commerce Interim President Tim Zunker said the hospitality and tourism industry has especially suffered as a result of the pandemic.

Smaller restaurants are unable to keep hours or remain open entirely due to a lack of employees, ranging from hosts to waiters to dishwashers. Labor laws prohibit staff under the age of 18 to work late shifts. The impact stretches across the board, including both fast-food and sit-down restaurants.

Similarly, hotels are unable to turn rooms as fast as usual due to a lack of housekeeping staff. Restaurants within hotels are forced to keep shorter hours.

As pandemic restrictions wound down a bit during the summer months, Americans flocked to sit-down restaurants and stores, creating an increase in demand that low staffing can’t accommodate. Retail and restaurants are seeing more money spent in this third quarter of the fiscal year than the entirety of last year, Probert Fagundes said.

Retail businesses struggle to fill positions from customer service employees to cashiers and greeters. Of Scott County’s 4,486 recent job postings, 199 were for retail salespersons, with 192 postings for retail sale supervisors.

WASTE MANAGEMENT

The shortage of employees affects even the industry of waste management, forcing garbage companies to raise rates as their employees work extended hours.

The pandemic led to a significant increase in waste output and a lack of drivers, meaning that while garbage trucks dumped two to three times a day in comparison to their usual one, dumping costs went up and so did employee hours.

“When COVID hit, we actually held back on giving a rate increase because we wanted to try to be a friendly community company,” said Prior Lake-based Buckingham Companies Vice President Mike Buckingham-Hayes. “But once we started seeing our dumping cost increase and employees’ hours increase, we had no choice but to go ahead and give that raise increase to customers.”

A letter was sent out to all Buckingham Companies customers after the rate increase during the pandemic explaining the driver shortage and reasoning behind the changes.

ENTERTAINMENT

Shakopee’s Canterbury Park closed for nearly five months last year. Hardly any seasonal employees were brought on due to the lack of a proper racing season, a stark contrast to the numerous seasonal employees normally hired during the busy time of year, according to Vice President of Human Resources Mary Fleming.

While the venue is now open for live racing, restrictions having been lifted at a much quicker pace than anticipated. As customers flood back to the park, Fleming and her team are just trying to keep up.

According to Fleming, Canterbury is receiving many applications from younger employees around the ages of 14 and 15. While Canterbury can hire a few of those applicants, they must be mindful of the shorter length of time teenagers of those ages are permitted legally to work.

“Things are looking up,” Fleming said. Canterbury works with nonprofit groups as well as instituting premium rates, incentive pay, sign-on bonuses and referral bonuses.

“We’re pulling out all the stops to make sure that we mitigate through this time and that when customers come, they have a good experience,” Fleming said. “The nice thing about Canterbury is we’re not your typical corporate environment, and it’s fun.”

Fleming’s team continues to work on outside-the-box methods of drawing in employees as events return to the park and customers continue to attend.

Canterbury is not the only entertainment venue with openings. Mystic Lake and Little Six Casinos put out 227 employment advertisements during the 30 day period ending July 11, 2021, according to a recent Scott County Real-Time Intelligence Report.

A BRIGHT SPOT

Some businesses have had success stories, including New Market Bank with locations in Elko New Market, Lakeville and Prior Lake. Although the bank closed lobbies early in the pandemic, reducing teller hours, wage structure adjustments and referral bonuses served the company well, said CEO and President Anita Vogel-Drentlaw. While the bank has seen a lack of applicants in a few teller positions, it has overall been successful in maintaining a steady staff over the course of the pandemic.

“I believe our largest success has been the ability to retain the amazing team we have,” said Vogel-Drentlaw. “We spend a lot of time focusing on our team and creating a culture that has an expectation of hard work but at the same time encourages everyone to have fun together.”

The culture Vogel-Drentlaw and her team have built has even led to other bank employees actively seeking openings at New Market.

“Building this culture definitely takes more time and is more of a marathon than a sprint, but it is worth it,” Vogel-Drentlaw said. She feels for larger companies with an ongoing need for employees and feels lucky to be a part of a smaller business with less jobs to be filled.


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