County workforce, population are growing
By the numbers
54 percent: Vail Valley businesses that have vacant positions in 2014 — 2015.
11 percent: Vacant positions in 2010 — 2011.
64 percent: Employers reporting they were able to fill vacancies within a month.
35 percent: Employees who report that finding housing is a “major frustration.”
EAGLE COUNTY — Employment in Eagle County seems to be getting better for workers, although wages still lag behind state averages.
The latest workforce report from Vail Valley Economic Development, an offshoot of the Vail Valley Partnership, has promising news regarding unemployment and growth. The study, which covers 2014 and the first part of 2015, crunches the numbers from an online survey of county employers who responded to a number of questions about topics including staffing levels, hiring and housing.
BUSINESSES ARE OPTIMISTIC
The survey shows increasing confidence about the valley’s economy and business climate, with several survey participants indicating they intend to expand or diversify.
Alpine Bank Regional President Michael Brown is in charge of that bank’s branches in the Vail Valley and Steamboat Springs. Brown said banks in that region are seeing more business owners asking about and applying for financing for various projects.
“We’re seeing requests from existing companies for operating capital to expand, and we’re seeing cases where people are looking into start-ups,” Brown said.
Those requests are an indication of a “gradual” strengthening of the valley’s business environment, Brown said, adding that business financing usually lags behind real estate, auto and other personal loans.
“But we’re seeing recovery in (commercial) rents,” Brown said.
That optimism shows up in the survey, where about two-thirds of respondents predicted “improving trends” for their own businesses. That’s actually a slight decline from the 2013-14 survey, and the 2012-13 study showed 75 percent of businesses expected better days ahead. On the other hand, the 2012-13 survey came on the heels of five years of far more gloomy answers to the question.
That business optimism is showing up in workforce figures. The most recent information from the Colorado Department of Labor, for May, shows the county with a 5 percent unemployment rate. That’s actually well above the state rate of 4.3 percent for the month, but it also comes during a month when seasonal workers are traditionally between winter and summer jobs. The 12-month unemployment rate for 2014 was 4.2 percent.
The county’s workforce and population are also growing. As opposed to the boom years of the early 2000s, growth between 2010 and 2015 is estimated at 1.8 percent per year.
While most of us are working these days, wages continue to lag behind the state as a whole. While 90 percent of businesses surveyed responded they pay either about the same or more than similar businesses in other parts of Colorado, state figures indicate that average weekly wages are about $200 per week lower than the state average.
With a growing economy also comes a housing crunch. In the most recent survey, 35 percent of employees said finding housing they desire at an affordable price was a “major frustration.” As recently as 2012-13, only 9 percent said finding housing was that difficult.
Housing is one of the lures SteamMaster Cleaning and Restoration uses to recruit employees. Still, the company right now has five technician positions open. Despite needing those people, SteamMaster CEO Raj Manickam said the company isn’t yet back to the desperation days of 2007, when the company was looking for visas for immigrant workers.
Manickam said the company will still be somewhat choosy about whom it hires. Since the company’s clients include owners of very expensive homes, employees have to pass a background check before being hired, and SteamMaster does drug-test its staff.
To compete, SteamMaster has housing, health insurance and retirement benefits for its long-term employees. The company also didn’t cut benefits during the downturn.
At Colorado Mountain Express, company sales and marketing director John Dawsey said that company won’t get a full idea of the seasonal hiring picture until it starts bring on new people in the fall. But, Dawsey said, the company remains in “good shape” with its year-round staff, and many of those people have been with the company for many years. The secret to keeping people isn’t much of a secret, Dawsey said.
“Attracting and retaining people is a matter of benefits, compensation and the ability to keep people busy during the slow times,” Dawsey said. And this time of year, the company tries to have some social bonding for its full-time people, many of whom don’t see each other very often during the busy times.
It’s also no secret that attracting and retaining good people will probably get more difficult for businesses as the Vail Valley’s economic climate continues to improve.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com or @scottnmiller.