The Economic Council of Eagle County recently released the 2013 workforce study.
After rising above the statewide unemployment rate for the past two years, 2012 saw a bit of employment catch-up in Eagle County. The number in the labor force rose to 29,793, a level almost equal to 2009 (still about 2,000 below the 2008 level). Unemployment for the year was 8.1 percent, just above the statewide unemployment rate of 8.0 percent and the third straight year of decline in the country.
Colorado also recently released February employment and unemployment statistics. Eagle County’s February 2013 employment data shows 1,477 more people employed in February 2013 than February 2012, and the civilian workforce increased by 1,182. We had approximately 295 fewer unemployed people in February 2013 than February 2012.
Eagle County’s employment picture is continuing to improve. Eagle County’s February 2013 unemployment rate of 6.0 percent is better than the five-year moving average of 6.4 percent and slightly higher than our 10-year average of 5.3 percent, and it is also 1.2 percent lower than February 2012. Looking at February 2013 vs. 2011, 2010 and 2009, we have an expanding civilian labor force, an expanding number of people employed and an unemployment rate that is reducing year over year (all data from Colorado Department of Labor and Employment).
The county’s population continues to grow at a slow and steady pace, about 1.8 percent per year (State Demographer estimates 2010-2015; the population in 2010 was 52,071). School enrollments are steady at about 6,400. Eagle County has 31,333 housing units and 19,209 households. Almost two in five homes in the county are classified as “vacant,” primarily second homes. While household income in the county is higher than the statewide average ($69,182 compared to $54,411), weekly wages are low: $754 a week in Eagle County, compared to $944 per week average statewide. Just over a quarter of the county’s employees work in accommodations and food services, another 11 percent in retail trade and 13 percent in arts, entertainment and recreation. Construction, a once robust sector of the economy, now employs less than 10 percent of the workforce.
It’s against this backdrop of an economy emerging from recession that we take a look at what employers in Eagle County are saying about business and workforce.
How optimistic are Eagle County business owners? Four in 10 respondents think the county economy is better off than last year, up from 30 percent last year. Only 5 percent say the economy is worse. Respondents are much more optimistic about their own businesses too — 57 percent say their own business is better than last year.
Last year’s mood of cautious optimism has picked up steam with 39 percent of respondents predicting better times ahead in 2012; that number jumped to 61 percent of business respondents in 2013. Only 3 percent of respondents think things will get worse, the lowest percentage since we began the survey (2006).
There’s a sense from business owners that we need to be proactive about growth. One quote of note was that “tourist dollars in revenues spent here must increase, community expenses to stay here must decrease and we need more businesses to locate here.”
Some additional conclusions from the 2013 workforce survey:
• The cautious optimism of last year has given rise to a hopeful outlook for 2013. Survey respondents see improving trends both for their own businesses and for the county as a whole.
• Housing showed up on the radar as a workforce issue in 2012 after an absence of a few years. The concern is heightened this year: Employers feel that housing issues are re-emerging in an improved economic cycle.
• Providing health insurance for employees continues to be a major challenge.
• Companies throughout the valley provide a variety of workforce wellness options, including accommodations for breastfeeding, access to on- or off-site exercise facilities, and fitness possibilities during the work day.
• Layoffs have hit bottom, it’s harder to find employees and there are some vacant positions.
• Strengthening existing businesses, as well as diversifying the economy, are on the minds of business owners throughout the valley.
The business community, via the workforce study, is bullish on the Vail Valley and Eagle County’s future. While some concerns and issues are present, it’s clear that we are in recovery mode and need to continue to build on the foundation to continue to grow our local economy.
Chris Romer is the president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.