Chamber hopes to keep employees in Vail
In anticipation of March 13s Town Council meeting agenda item in regard to employee-housing mitigation, the Vail Chamber & Business Associations March monthly membership meeting included a discussion of its position on the type of housing we would like to see the town help create. Meeting attendees provided much valuable feedback, with the overwhelming majority agreeing that the foremost issue is housing seasonal and front-line Vail employees, plus new resident workers. Beginning the discussion with the proposed addition of 800 beds to Timber Ridge, the group agreed that it is in the best interest of both employers and employees to have members of the work force live in close proximity to their jobs. A closer location not only makes them more reliable to their employers, but it encourages them to return to or stay in town for subsequent seasons. It is a constant and enormous challenge for business owners to find reliable employees, and without adequate housing in town, there is no hope Vail will ever retain, much less attract, those employees.With an estimated increase of 3,000 to 5,000 new jobs in just Vail and Minturn in the upcoming years, 800 beds is an important beginning, but certainly not a solution to the issue of population and job growth. Therefore, not only is it important that these 800 beds be used for Vail employee housing but that housing density be increased as well. The Timber Ridge plan only addresses the issue of future growth, which will obviously be substantial. It is not intended to solve the problems created in the past that have caused the current shortage. Today, the employee-housing situation in Vail is dismal. Most employers have struggled this season to maintain staffing levels. Clearly, to add affordable employee housing in Vail, some sort of regulation needs to be put into place. The Chamber applauds the town for the effort it is making to resolve this problem, for it is a task that has been avoided by previous administrations. Early mistakes aside, any new proposed Vail employee housing should truly accommodate entry-level employees, who are the lifeblood of the business community.There is, of course, the option to put employees farther downvalley. Clearly, space and growth in Vail is and always has been a complicated topic; therefore downvalley housing is attractive in one respect. However, this idea was largely rejected by the meeting attendees because it does not address the dilemma of retaining employees, and it also exacerbates the issue of commuter traffic. It is anticipated that by 2025 there will be 80,000 people in Eagle County, and an estimated 100,000 jobs, so an even larger number of employees from outside Eagle County will be commuting into the county. The business community is also concerned about the effect that development outside the town has on Vail employment. Developments such as the Ginn project at Minturn will compete with Vail for employees, and if the options for employee housing are more attractive than Vail can offer, the town runs the risk of losing those valuable employees. One member brought up the issue of having a combination of housing available to both Vail employees and affordable housing for families in the Timber Ridge proposal. Although this is an issue that should be addressed eventually, most attendees reiterated that housing the front-line employees is the current priority. Poor options for employee housing is a symptom that leads to many other problems, such as reduced hours of operation for local businesses, a dearth of reliable employees and the continued struggle of Vail merchants to continue to be able to run their businesses. When it comes time for the town to decide how to use the limited resources we already have, it is our recommendation that the needs of the seasonal, front-line and new resident worker be the focus. The Vail business community can only succeed and provide sales tax dollars for the towns operations if it has productive and happy employees.