Regional report shows economic growth
By the numbers
5.8 percent: Growth in Eagle County construction jobs from 2014 to 2015
8.8 percent: Growth in construction jobs in a give-county region.
$42,224: Average annual wage in Eagle County.
$52,260: Average annual wage in Colorado.
EAGLE COUNTY — The area’s economy showed steady growth through 2015, but the news isn’t all rosy.
The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments recently released an economic report for Eagle, Grand, Pitkin, Summit and Jackson counties. Those counties — with the exception of Jackson — are home to most of the state’s winter resorts. In 2015, those counties all reported steady growth in most economic sectors.
Compared to the region, Eagle County showed the strongest growth in the number of new businesses that opened between 2014 and 2015, an increase of 148 new establishments.
Eagle County showed solid growth in its labor force, with almost 2,000 more people working in December of 2015 than the same month in 2014. Most of those people — 1.148, according to the report — found newly-created jobs. That rate of job creation led the six-county area. The total number of jobs fell in Pitkin and Jackson counties. Interestingly, in an area that doesn’t have many agricultural jobs, that sector of the job market grew the most between 2014 and 2015. On the other hand, adding a relatively few jobs will show big percentage gains. Eagle County’s agricultural workforce grew 2 percent during the year, but that growth added one job.
The county’s unemployment rate fell during the same period, from 3.3 percent to 2.5 percent. The unemployment rate among the counties in December of 2015 ranged from a high of 3 percent in Jackson County to a low of 1.6 percent in Summit County. The state rate for the month was 3.5 percent.
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The growth in the workforce is mostly a good thing, but it puts more pressure on the area’s housing inventory.
Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Director Rachel Lunney said a combination of stagnant wages and increases in home prices could make it more difficult to attract and retain employees.
Besides relatively small changes in paychecks around the region, those paychecks put less money in bank accounts than the statewide average.
Lunney said part of the reason for the lower-than-average wages is the kind of jobs that predominate in the region — about 60 percent of all positions are in the lower-paying service sectors.
While the region overall showed good economic progress, certain areas are doing better than others.
Grand County, for instance, showed the most growth — 16 percent — in construction-industry jobs. Grand County also showed 38 percent growth over the previous year in real estate transactions in the fourth quarter of 2015.
The real estate market also saw growth in the number of homes being purchased by out-of-state buyers.
“It’s all good news,” Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer said. His group acts as the regional chamber of commerce.
Romer said the raw numbers in the report are encouraging but added that there are some economic headwinds that bear watching.
For instance, the Vail Valley’s lodging occupancy for the season through the end of February declined 1 percent. On the other hand, the average daily rate charged for rooms increased, meaning that revenue per available room has risen.
March and April will paint an interesting picture, Romer said, since Easter falls almost as early as it can this year.
Housing, biggest concern
The biggest concern, though, is housing. The Economic Council of Eagle County, which is now operated by the Vail Valley Partnership, every year conducts a workforce report, a survey of both employers and employees.
“Housing has been the biggest concern in all but one year the survey’s been done,” Romer said. “I expect it to be far and away the biggest concern this year.”
Other headwinds in the area’s economic picture include issues including the strength of the U.S. dollar compared to other currencies and general economic uncertainty that’s begun to creep into both the state and national pictures.
But that’s why understanding current conditions can be important.
“That’s where being proactive comes in and doing everything we can to support the business community,” Romer said. “We need to be able to absorb punches when they come, and they always come.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.