Vail Valley business data is part optimism, part concern
Housing, health care, childcare and transit remain the big concerns
EAGLE — In the past, Vail Valley business owners have been pretty good at anticipating economic trends.
But right now, they don’t really seem to know exactly what they think.
“We are up in the air about a lot of things,” Vail Valley Partnership President and CEO Chris Romer notedduring a meeting last week with members of the Eagle County Board of Commissioners. During the session, Romer shared information from the group’s most recent business surveys along with an update of VVP programs.
Romer noted that the VVP’s most recent business surveys show owners are optimistic about the Eagle County economy. But nearly half of the survey respondents also said they were concerned about federal or state regulations. While 66% of the businesses surveyed said they experience recruitment challenges, 77% plan to add jobs in 2020.
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“Our businesses feel pretty good about things,” Romer said. “They have signs of hiring issues, but they want to grow.”
Currently, the unemployment rate in Eagle County is just 1.92%: But that isn’t as great as it sounds.
“Having unemployment measured at under 2% might seem like a really good thing, but in reality, it creates stresses on the community,” Romer said. “There simply aren’t enough people for businesses to grow their business.
“Our jobs are going at a faster rate than our population,” Romer continued.
Romer said recent statistics reveal an interesting job trend: The fastest-growing job sectors are in professional services, health care and construction.
“What you aren’t seeing in the fastest-growing jobs are the resort economy jobs,” he said.
Romer cited the most current data for Eagle County, which shows 2,806 open job postings and a total labor force of 35,664 employees. There are 3,815 businesses currently operating in Eagle County, and 85 percent of those businesses have fewer than 20 employees.
“This community and this county are driven by small business,” Romer said.
Then there is the statistic that demonstrates the valley’s economic challenge. Romer noted that the county’s median income is $90,36 but the average annual wage is $46,124. That disparity manifests in many ways, but Romer noted there are four major barriers to the local economy — housing, health care, child care and transit.
“Those are really the four issues we have been tracking over time,” he said. “These are overwhelmingly the issues that people are telling us about.”
Romer noted that the most recent survey responses showed businesses haven’t seen any improvement in the areas of housing, health care, child care and transit.
The most recent data from the Vail Valley Partnership showed that 65% of local businesses that responded cited housing as a major frustration; another 21% indicated that housing issues “could be better.”
Romer quoted one business owner who stated, “Available, affordable housing is the biggest issue” and another who said, “Employees are not able to sustain residency in Eagle County.”
On the subject of health care, 26% of businesses reported major frustrations while another 39% indicated there was a need for improvement. The numbers were similar for child care issues, with 21% of businesses seeing it as a major frustration and 36% seeing a need for improvement. “Early childhood access and cost is a barrier to business,” one survey response offered.
Finally, transit remains a concern, with 7% of businesses identifying it as a major frustration and 26% citing a need for improvement.
Romer noted that while businesses are having trouble finding employees and are concerned about specific county issues that are contributing to that problem, they remain optimistic about the local economy. It remains to be seen if that thinking plays out on a state and national level.
“They (local business owners) are generally a year or two ahead of what the metrics are,” Romer said. He noted local business owners expressed general unease about the economy around 2007, a year before the Great Recession hit.
“Their crystal ball has been pretty spot-on,” Romer concluded.
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