With the loss of the cruise season, tourists are not the only people missing from Ketchikan this summer — many seasonal workers have found themselves out of work due to COVID-19.
In 2017, Jessy Goodman left her job as an English professor to travel. She found herself in Ketchikan working a seasonal job in the outdoor industry. This summer would have been her fourth in Ketchikan. She was days away from flying from Portland to Alaska in mid-March when the country began shutting down.
At first, Goodman just postponed her reservation.
“And then, at a certain point it was like, well, doesn’t really make sense to go up there right now. So, just kind of waiting, seeing if it’s, if it’s ever going to be like, logical to do that this year,” she told KRBD.
Without her typical seasonal job, Goodman has been living off federal aid money her employer Lighthouse Excursions passed on to her while she and her boyfriend figure out their next move.
“Now I’m riding the unemployment wave until the end of the month when that extra bump comes up,” she said. “And then I’m hoping to, I don’t know, have a plan as to where to be for the next few months — ’cause we’re just really up in the air, we don’t really know where we’re staying.”
Other outfits are in the same boat. Betsey Burdett said that she originally hired 22 summer workers to work for her at Southeast Exposure Outdoor Adventure Center. But when the pandemic cancelled the tourist season, she had to tell her out of state workers not to travel.
“You know, we make no, zero money. So we have zero money to pay them,” Burdett said.
Now, she has six local employees, and is paying them with federal coronavirus relief money. She thinks she can make August payroll, but she says she knows the situation isn’t sustainable.
“It’s not gonna last through the summer season, and that’s what I was saying is I think we’ll have to, you know, cross that bridge when we get there,” Burdett said.
And while she doesn’t expect any visitors this summer, Burdett also says she’s worried about the few local patrons she might get. She says she doesn’t think enough people in town care about wearing masks. And she says she isn’t afraid to turn people away in the name of public health.
“It would be a small percentage of what we usually make,” she said. “So the question is, do we want to jeopardize anyone’s health in the name of making money?”
For Burdett, the answer is no. But she says she’s concerned about other business owners who feel differently.
Back in Portland, Goodman also says she’s worried about the future of the tourism industry in Ketchikan.
“I’m really hoping to get back to Ketchikan and have a season next year if I can’t get there sooner,” she said, “but I think that a real thing we have to consider is that it might not be the same place anymore, you know, and have the same opportunities for us.”
For now, she’s applying for jobs and trying to figure out her next move.