Aspen construction slowing, many workers leaving area |

Aspen construction slowing, many workers leaving area

Katie Redding
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen TimesAs the economic slowdown hits the Roaring Fork Valley and construction slows, day laborers who once found work easily at sites such as this one, the Limelight Lodge in Aspen, are beginning to find it difficult to get work.

ASPEN, Colorado ” Early Wednesday morning, more than 40 day laborers showed up at the Aspen Work Force office.

But operations manager Willie Cubias only had work for six of them. By 10 a.m., a half-dozen were still at the office, hoping that a call would come in.

Before the local construction industry started to slow, Cubias said that about 20 men arrived every day, and generally he had work for all of them. That hasn’t happened for a few months now, he said.

And while he still has days, like Monday of this week, where he is able to find work for at least 20 people, statistically, work is down by half, he said.

Depending on whom you ask, the economic slowdown already has hit the Roaring Fork Valley; won’t hit the valley for a few months; or won’t hit the valley at all. But those who employ day laborers locally are in general agreement that the once-hot Aspen construction scene is starting to lag ” and it probably isn’t just because of the weather. They also say they are starting to see some workers move into the valley from Denver “just as others head back to their homeland.

Aspen Work Force, which largely provides workers for residential construction projects in town, has seen some projects asking for fewer workers, and others that have stopped work altogether until funding comes through again. Cubias is used to seeing a construction slowdown in the fall, he explained, but not one like this.

Luis Rico, one of those waiting in the office, said he had only worked three hours in the past three days. For several years, the 43-year-old Basalt resident said, he has come from Mexico to the Roaring Fork Valley for a few months at a time on a work visa to earn money. Usually he has no problem working 40 hours a week, but this year he’s worried about being able to send enough money home to support his family in Mexico. Right now, he’s hoping that when the ski season gears up, he can find restaurant work.

“If you’re just focused on construction you’re kind of toast right now,” said John Van Benthuysen, the CEO of Labor Source, which has offices in Aspen, Basalt, Glenwood Springs and Parachute. Unlike Aspen Work Force, which focuses on meeting the employment needs of the Aspen construction industry, his company finds people short-term work in a variety of fields from Aspen to Parachute.

Labor Source has seen a slowdown in the Aspen construction scene, but that it has been able to shift workers to Glenwood Springs, which still has construction work, and Parachute, where the gas and oil industry still has a strong demand for skilled workers, Van Benthuysen said.

And while he’s seeing construction slow in Aspen, he can still find work for people and isn’t involved with any projects that have lost funding, he said.

“Fortunately, we didn’t have some of the larger, leveraged clients,” he said.

But while he is able to employ those who want work right now, especially skilled laborers, he also noted that there appears to be a slow influx of workers into the valley from the Front Range. Van Benthuysen said he is beginning to see workers move up to the Roaring Fork Valley from Denver, put their families in a hotel room and come to his office looking for work. In fact, right now, he is at the nexus of two problems, he said ” the economic slowdown and the lack of affordable housing in the valley.

“Imagine if you came up and you were living on the Front Range,” he said. “You come up here, and you can get a job, but where are you going to live?”

Both Van Benthuysen and Cubias said that in a downturn, those workers who only speak Spanish are the first to lose out on work, since employers generally prefer someone bilingual. Both are encouraging prospective employees to take advantage of the numerous opportunities in the Roaring Fork Valley to learn English, they say.

“As money tightens up and they have to do more with less people,” said Van Benthuysen, “it will be the non-English speakers who get tossed, left by the wayside.”

But Cubias said he’s already starting to see some of those with temporary work visas return to Mexico, to wait until there is more work.

But he’s not sure that will be anytime soon.

“This is just the beginning,” he said.

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