Eagle County jobs outlook remains tough | VailDaily.com

Eagle County jobs outlook remains tough

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – As the national economy has taken a turn for the worse in the last two years, Eagle County has slowly caught up to many of the negative economic trends like unemployment and lower sales tax revenues.

Unemployment in Eagle County reached a five-year high this past May when it hit 11.5 percent. May is typically one of the worst, if not the worst, months of the year for local jobs as local ski resorts close down and seasonal work comes to an end.

The downward trend in local unemployment, however, can be seen across all months of the year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Economic Council of Eagle County found that 31 percent of local businesses had job openings in 2009-10, down from 44 percent in 2008-09 and 63 percent in 2007-08. Many local companies also slashed benefits and hours, an effect Vail Valley Salvation Army Executive Director Tsu Wolin-Brown sees daily.

The organization used to primarily help low-income people, but now she’s helping people who are struggling from just about any financial background.

“For the middle-class, it’s really devastating for them,” Wolin-Brown said.

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Economic Council of Eagle County Executive Director Don Cohen said people are just leaving the valley, which will have even more effects when things do pick up again.

“When the economy picks up, however many years from now, and building starts to ramp up, the cost of labor will be higher because there will be less people in the valley,” Cohen said.

Cohen suspects that many of the new jobs coming on board in Vail with the Solaris and Ritz-Carlton projects, which would collectively add about 200 jobs, would include a lot of replacement jobs rather than new jobs – employees would essentially be coming from other local jobs that have been lost, rather than new employees for new jobs.

“Some properties will fill up not by new people moving to the valley, but by people already here,” Cohen said.

The 150 or so estimated jobs at Solaris combined with about 50 at the Ritz-Carlton just aren’t enough, Cohen said.

“That’s a nice chunk, but it’s not enough to move the needle forward,” he said.

Jim Lamont, executive director of the Vail Homeowners Association, studies local economic trends for his organization and said these new jobs aren’t exactly great replacement jobs, either.

“We’re not replacing high-end construction jobs with high-end management jobs – we’re replacing high-end construction with service workers,” Lamont said. “A construction worker could get $50 an hour, whereas a service worker is lucky to get $15 an hour.”

Lamont and Cohen aren’t holding their breaths that an economy recovery is right around the corner. They both think the local recovery could take years.

“Having been through this before, I don’t think people should be holding out false hopes that things are going to turn around anytime soon,” Lamont said.

As job opportunities have shrunk, some people just can’t stay around waiting for things to turn around.

Wolin-Brown said she’s not only helping more people get by with things like utility bills and food, but the Salvation Army has also helped people leave.

“There are quite a few people leaving,” Wolin-Brown said. “Even if there’s no work back where they’re from, they might have a family there they can stay with.”

The transient nature of the community typically means most local residents don’t have family to help them locally, Wolin-Brown said. She sees many locals who are just about ready to leave.

“There just aren’t enough jobs to go around,” Wolin-Brown said.

The exodus out of the valley tends to be more obvious around May, when people have lost their seasonal work and just leave, Cohen said.

“People got through the winter and left in the summer in search of better employment opportunities,” he said.

For those that hang on, though, Cohen thinks there’s hope.

“If you can afford to hang on, many people who get through the next five to seven years here will be the first in line getting the better jobs when the economy comes back,” Cohen said. “I think for people who hang in there and are persistent, I think there is a good future for them in our valley .”

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.