Last week in this space, we discussed the framework and overall objectives related to economic development in Eagle County.
It is important to understand where we are, and where we have been, in order to best understand how to move forward in a proactive manner related to regional economic development efforts. Below is a brief review of the current state of the Eagle County economy and an overview of the local business climate. This information has informed the objectives and strategies recommended by the 2014 Eagle County strategic plan.
Base Economic Indicators
Eagle County has experienced slow and steady gains on most of the core economic indicators since 2011. Retail sales for 2012 totaled $2,095,218,000, a 1.4 percent increase from the prior year. Real estate has seen solid growth in 2012 as compared to 2011, with increases in total dollar volume by 31 percent and number of transactions by 27 percent. Year-on-year changes since 2008 for the size of the labor force, number of individuals employed and average weekly wages have increased. All three indicators saw positive growth in 2012.
While all of the core economic indicators have realized positive growth in Eagle County for 2012, considerable gaps still exist between statewide performance on average weekly wages and average earnings per job. Additionally, 2012 sales tax collections and retail sales were still substantially lower than what they were in 2008 (17 and 11.1 percent, respectively).
The 2010 census showed that the Eagle County population stood at 52,197 individuals. While the 2008 economic downturn resulted in some dampening in future growth projections, the 2011 Colorado State Demographer’s office still projected 19 percent growth between 2010 and 2015 and nearly 37 percent growth between 2010 and 2020, resulting in a county-wide population of about 71,000 individuals within the next six years. The projected continuous growth of the county population is already being mirrored by the year-to-year growth in the Eagle County Schools’ pre-K through 12th grade student population, which did not see negative growth during even the most economically challenging period. The fall 2007 student October count for the district was at 5,724 students and has grown by 12 percent to 6,408 students in fall of 2012.
Although it is predicted that all segments of the population will experience growth, the greatest growth is expected to be among those aged 60 or older and also the Latino population. The 2010 census showed that the Latino community in the county comprised 30 percent of the overall county population, and the fall 2012 student October count for the school district showed that this population was now the majority within the local public schools at nearly 50 percent.
Labor force characteristics
In 2012, Eagle County’s labor force had seen the first positive year-on-year growth since 2008. Given the corresponding drop in unemployment during the same period, this is another indicator that Eagle County’s economic health is improving. Additionally, monthly labor statistics through June 2013 show the workforce in Eagle County is trending somewhat higher compared to the same period in 2012, while unemployment numbers are declining, which is further evidence that economic health continues to improve into 2013.
An indicator that takes into account both the size of the workforce as well as the number of individuals employed is sometimes referred to as “economic stress.” This indicator is calculated by first looking at year-to-year changes in both the number of individuals in the labor force and, separately, the number of individuals employed. The year-to-year growth ratio that is yielded for the labor force is then subtracted from the year-to-year growth ratio in employment. Positive values indicate a more favorable year-to-year growth balance on the two combined factors. Economic stress was greatest in 2009 and has been improving since that year, with a return to a positive value by 2011.
Accommodations and food services is the largest job sector in Eagle County followed by arts, entertainment and recreation. These tourism-related positions make up half the jobs in Eagle County. This is a significant change from 2008, when the construction sector was the second largest employer in Eagle County.
Chris Romer is the president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.