Cheap gas, bonuses used to lure workers |

Cheap gas, bonuses used to lure workers

Donna Gray
Vail CO, Colorado
Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” As the shortage of workers grows in the valley like bindweed in the backyard, so have the creative efforts of local employers to recruit, hire and retain good help.

Newspapers are packed full of help wanted ads offering plenty of perks like discounted gas, flexible hours, end-of-season bonuses, sign-on bonuses, even relocation bonuses.

A high cost of living ” especially housing ” and relatively low wages are driving younger workers away.

In addition, there simply are not enough bodies to fill the jobs.

“Jobs are growing but the population is not keeping pace,” said Joe Winter, senior economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment in Denver.

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Garfield County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state ” 2.9 percent in 2006 ” the lowest it’s been since 2000, Winter added.

The worker shortage is becoming so critical that employers are getting creative about what they offer and where they go to hire.

One of the largest employers in the area, Garfield County government, with 400 employees, is constantly looking to fill positions. It currently has 13 full-time and two part-time positions in county government open, as well a three full-time positions in the sheriff’s department, said county operations director Dale Hancock.

Some departments have seen so much attrition the county is now looking to hire two people to fill a single position, Hancock said.

The difficulty of hiring and retaining employees has led the county to look at a nontraditional work force. With the baby-boomer generation reaching retirement age, Hancock said they’ve found many aren’t quite ready for the rocking chair on the porch.

“The gray head may say they will work two days a week (for) health insurance,” he said.

Such a scenario unfolded a few years ago when Jesse Smith moved to the area after retirement. He applied for an opening at the county fairgrounds but then Hancock and county manager Ed Green saw his qualifications ” “he had a boatload of experience” in upper level management. That’s why Smith is now the assistant county manager. Hancock said they couldn’t ignore his experience and that’s why he was ushered into the assistant manager slot.

Hancock said the county is also looking beyond Garfield County for prospects. The administration has considered recruiting in the Midwest states with depressed economies and high unemployment rates.

However, there’s a housing catch.

“We bring these guys out here for a $16 an hour job, which is a decent wage, but where will they live?” he said.

As housing costs have risen in the region, so has the concern that mid- and lower level workers find it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing in the towns where they work. The region has a history of workers living in Glenwood Springs and farther downvalley and commuting to the higher paying jobs in the resort towns in Pitkin and Eagle counties. But in the past decade, housing prices have soared in Glenwood and what used to be the affordable communities to the west along the Colorado River.

In addition, the booming oil and gas industry has siphoned off a large share of the workforce with higher paying jobs.

Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Marianne Virgili said she’s heard of oil and gas company recruiters who come to construction sites and try to entice workers away,

Larry Kent, district manager of Halliburton in Grand Junction, says finding good people to work in the gas patch in western Garfield County is also a challenge. The company, which provides a range of services to the oil and gas industry, employs about 800 people in the region.

Kent also has looked at nontraditional sources for new hires. “We’ve hired a lot of school teachers in their 40s and 50s because they need the benefits package.”

Rather than joining their younger counterparts as roustabouts on the rigs, they work primarily in administrative and support jobs.

“They add a little seasoning” to the workforce, Kent said.

A pair of Grand Junction journalists also went from tapping out stories on keyboards to working for the higher wages of the natural gas industry. As have many lower paid workers in Glenwood Springs.

“There’s been a big change in the availability of people to work, especially when you’re competing with $20 to $25 an hour (pay) rates for the oil field,” said Steve Beckley.

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