Eagle County wages continue to lag behind state averages
Lower-paying tourism-related jobs account for nearly half of the county's total employment
EAGLE COUNTY — Tourism and outdoor recreation employ a lot of people, but those workers’ wages are below county and regional averages.
A recent report from the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments shows how tourism and outdoor recreation dominate workforce numbers in four of the five counties in the region: Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin and Summit counties.
Jackson County — the area around Walden — had the lowest percentage of tourism-related jobs in the region, at 29%. Jackson County also had the highest number of jobs in agriculture at 18%.
In Eagle County, jobs in the tourism and outdoor recreation industries account for 49% of the area’s roughly 36,000 jobs.
While unemployment across the region is just 1.9%, the average wage among all Eagle County jobs is just less than $47,000 per year. That’s second-highest in the five-county region, behind Pitkin County. The average annual wage in Pitkin County is just more than $51,600.
While those wages are above the regional average, they still lag behind the average annual wage in Colorado — about $63,000.
The study breaks tourism and outdoor recreation into three sectors: accommodation and food services; arts, entertainment and recreation; and retail trade.
Of those, jobs in Eagle County’s arts, entertainment and recreation sector are the lowest-paying of all jobs surveyed, at an average of about $32,500 per year. That’s far below the regional average but second only to Pitkin County in the study area. Jackson County posts the lowest average annual pay in arts, entertainment and recreation at $17,888.
The best average pay for jobs in Eagle County are in management of companies ($133,900), finance and insurance ($106,800), and health care ($70,000).
None of those sectors are big enough to put much of an upward push on the wage averages. The construction and health care industries, both of which pay above-average wages, together make up 15% of Eagle County’s workforce. The highest-paying jobs are in the “all others” category, which includes work ranging from management and finance to administrative and waste services, accounts for about 20% of the county’s workforce.
In fact, the finance and management categories together account for 598 jobs.
Tourism-related jobs tend to be lower-paying. Given the importance of tourism in the regional economy, that’s unlikely to change.
Rachel Lunney, the economic development district director for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, said there will always be a lot of those lower-paying jobs. The idea, she said, is to grow higher-paying jobs, in large part through entrepreneurship. The group in the past several weeks has held a number of seminars on the topic.
Lunney said Project THOR, which aims to bring faster, more reliable internet service to the region, can help with both start-up businesses and other professions that rely on web access.
Meanwhile, pay is falling farther behind the cost of housing. The most recent data from the Vail Board of Realtors indicates that the median price of a single-family home in Eagle County jumped 39% from September of 2018 to September of this year. The median price for condos and townhomes has risen by more than 15%.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.