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Business optimism returning

About the survey

Conducted by: Economic Council of Eagle County/Vail Valley Partnership

Participants: 98

Period studied: 2013-2014

To see the survey: Go to http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com

EAGLE COUNTY — Any group of 100 people will contain a few Gloomy Gus types. That’s what makes one portion of the latest workforce report from the Economic Council of Eagle County something of a surprise.

Business owners and managers — 98 in all — were asked questions including their ability to hire and retain employees, how housing affects recruitment and more. They were also asked for predictions about the county’s economy for the coming year.

About one-third predicted economic conditions would stay about the same. The rest predicted improvement. No one expected the economy to get worse.

How surprising is that? Well, when asked for predictions for their own businesses, a small percentage — less than 5 percent — foresaw worsening conditions.

“Right now, people generally have a feeling that things are getting better.”
Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership CEO

The crystal ball question is one of several in which survey participants saw stable or improving conditions — respondents also believe the current economy is either stable or improving.

BIG CHANGE

Those responses represent a big change from the period between 2008 and 2011, when the red of the “getting worse” responses either dominated or occupied big swaths of the report’s bar graphs.

In Vail Village, Sitzmark Lodge general manager Jeanne Fritch said that business’ experience roughly mirrors that of the workforce report.

“We’ve had a tremendous year — both summer and winter,” Fritch said of the family’s hotel. “We’re pacing ahead of last year for this winter, too.”

RETAIL IMPROVING

Beyond the hotel itself, Fritch said the sense she’s getting from both Sitzmark tenants and neighbors is that the retail atmosphere has been improving, too.

“Some of our tenants had some really rough years,” she said.

Andrej Birjulin, the author of the most recent survey, said hearing similar good news from the Sitzmark is a kind of “convergent validating,” in which different data sources confirm a study’s conclusions.

An improving economy is also seen in data ranging from sales tax revenues to unemployment data.

The survey cites state information that shows the county’s labor force of 29,300 is about 3,000 fewer than the peak year of 2008. The most recent county unemployment rate of 6.6 percent is also lower than the nearly 10 percent rate seen in 2010.

HOUSING

But another facet of an improving economy is the return of one of the valley’s never-ending problems, housing.

This year’s report shows one-third of employers citing housing as having a negative effect on hiring and retention. That’s well down from the 2008 number — 51 percent — but it is climbing.

On the other hand, given that there are local newspaper reports about a shortage of housing that date back to the period just after World War II, it’s likely that having plenty of housing in the valley is the exception, not the rule.

We’re probably going to hear more about housing in the coming months and years. We’ll may also start hearing more about another problem associated with good times, the ability to find and hire good people.

That isn’t the case now, Fritch said, but the last years of the boom had only 33 percent of respondents reporting “good” or “excellent” experiences hiring new people.

While no one has a great way to predict the future, Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer said the workforce report gives a “sneak peek” into what the coming months may bring.

“Right now, people generally have a feeling that things are getting better,” Romer said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.


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