Housing hampering seasonal hiring | VailDaily.com

Housing hampering seasonal hiring

Scott N. Miller
An ad for employment is seen on the front door of the Village Market in Edwards on Friday. Employers are staffing up for the winter season, and some say it's more difficult to find help this year.
Townsend Bessent |

By the numbers

The 2014 Workforce Report, from the Economic Council of Eagle County, measured, among other things, employees’ experience “finding housing they desire at an affordable price. Here’s a look at the “major frustration numbers since 2008-2009:

2008-09: 39 percent.

2009-10: 24 percent.

2010-11: 0 percent.

2011-12: 5 percent.

2012-13: 9 percent.

2013-14: 15 percent.

EAGLE COUNTY — The Vail Valley may be back to a housing/hiring crunch, and it’s happened fairly quickly.

While some local businesses say they’ve filled their seasonal positions, other employers are scrambling for workers. More critically, those who aren’t already living here are having a hard time finding places to stay.

The Vail Valley Partnership serves as a regional chamber of commerce, a place for businesses to talk to each other about how they’re doing. Partnership President Chris Romer said a number of business owners this fall are wondering where their seasonal people will come from, and where they’ll live.

“I’ve been hearing it for the last two weeks,” Romer said. “We’re seeing a real issue about workforce housing. All the apartments are full.”

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Bus Drivers Needed

Eagle County Human Resources Department Director Jacci McKenna said the county currently has a handful of jobs advertised. The biggest problem is finding seasonal bus drivers.

It’s been tough, and it’s all about housing, housing, housing,” said Kelley Collier, director of the county’s ECO Transit service.

“Over the past few years, we’ve been able to find people (locally), but more jobs are available now.”

Collier added that pay is generally “pretty decent” for jobs available to locals, and seasonal driving jobs are hard work, and don’t come with benefits.

Visa Changes

Another problem filling the seasonal positions is the fact that there have been changes to visa program that the county and town of Vail once used to bring Australian drivers to this country for the winter. Add in the fact that bringing foreign drivers is a long process, and there’s a real crunch developing on the county’s staff of bus drivers.

Some Places Doing OK

While some businesses are worried about the coming season, a pair of local hotels already have their winter staffs mostly in place.

The Sebastian hotel in Vail usually goes through the winter with about 250 people on staff. Off-season staffing is about 150 people. The hotel is currently advertising for a handful of positions, but general manager Lance Thompson said the hotel’s seasonal hiring has gone well enough that a fall job fair wasn’t needed.

At The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, director of sales and marketing Kristen Pryor emailed that the hotel does have open positions. But, she added, more than 100 people attended a recent job fair at the hotel.

“Overall, our hiring is going well,” Pryor wrote.

The construction industry is picking up, but slowly.

Travis Bossow, president of R.A. Nelson & Associates, said that company is currently staffed to what he believes is a good level. But, he added, subcontractors — plumbers, electricians, tile companies and others — are all short of people.

Again, all this has happened fairly quickly. The Economic Council of Eagle County — now a Partnership project — earlier this year put the number of employees reporting “major frustration” at finding housing at 15 percent. Anecdotally, that number will be significantly higher for next year’s survey.

So what’s fueled the quick change?

Recouping Lost Jobs

People returning to the workforce could be one factor. Romer said that the valley has recouped almost all of the roughly 6,000 jobs lost during the economic collapse of 2008-2009. Those jobs aren’t in the same industries — there are far fewer construction jobs — but there are more jobs in the county.

Then there’s the issue of mobility. McKenna said that people who had stayed in jobs during the downturn may be looking for other opportunities now. That can help fuel turnover.

Never Ending Competition

Then there’s competition. The Denver area is booming these days, and has its own housing crunch. Closer to home, competition for employees stretches into the oil and gas fields in Garfield County, where jobs tend to pay better than resort-area positions.

Hindsight is 20/20

Housing has been a problem in the Eagle River Valley since the days before Vail was a place. Wouldn’t the short days when housing was available have been a good time to start building, or at least planning to build, more units?

Romer agreed with that idea, with a caveat.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Romer said. “This was a missed opportunity, but we had other short-term challenges to face. I don’t blame anyone.”

On the other hand, at a recent Vail Town Council meeting, board member Greg Moffet pleaded with fellow council members to start taking more concrete action there.

“It would behoove us to start taking action, and not just assume (the housing issue) will figure itself out,” Romer said.

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