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Vail Valley Economic Watch: Lots of moving pieces

Don Cohen
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

In early December, our Economic Council staff attended the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business’ annual economic outlook forum in Denver. More than 600 people filled the Grand Hyatt’s ballroom for the forum, which provides the state’s most comprehensive economic outlook and forecasting report. Reporting on the results were economists Richard Wobbekind, the assistant dean of the Leeds School, and Patty Silverstein, the president of Development Research Partners.

Over the past several years, the Economic Council has worked with both Rich and Patty relating to our local economic research work and consider them to be balanced and insightful experts.

In early December, the consensus view of economists across the state was that Colorado would certainly feel the downturn, but that the loss of jobs would be much milder than elsewhere in the country.



Two months later, Wobbekind’s quote to The Denver Post worryingly pointed to the sand of Colorado jobs melting under the feet of the economy far more quickly than he and most of the other economists across the state predicted.

The swiftness and velocity of decline clearly has taken national, state and local officials by surprise, and the emergency landing of the economy will not be as safe as a watery runway on the Hudson.



In 2003, when we started the Economic Council, one of my pet phrases was “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Back then, we slowly started with a simple idea: Gather, analyze and report economic information to help local governments and businesses better plan for the future. This month, the Economic Council is releasing its most comprehensive reports to date, and we will be increasing the frequency and depth of our monitoring of the local economy.

We all take for granted stats and reports from various governmental and industry sources. Until we started gathering and measuring local data, I really didn’t appreciate how difficult, frustrating and time-consuming the process could be.

For instance, up until the council started contacting all the towns and county, there was no single consolidated report for building permits. There is now.



Our third annual work-force report now covers the majority of employees in Eagle County, but it still requires a lot of effort to engage key employers to share employment data with us. All of this takes a lot of time.

You can find our latest series of reports at http://www.economiccouncil.biz.

When looking at the broader picture, there’s a lot of anecdotal information that is often more real-time and thought provoking than waiting one to three months for the formal data. Here’s some of what we’re hearing.

There are indications in our educational community that we’re seeing increasing job stress on families. Some of our public schools are seeing an erosion in enrollment as families leave (both Hispanic and Anglo) for better economic opportunities in the Front Range or other states.

A couple of the valley’s charter schools are finding it difficult to attract additional funding support from their parents, and several conversations with parents whose children are in private schools indicate that they are rethinking their family budget with tuition being carefully weighed against house payments.

Overqualified applicants are pursuing lower-paying jobs. From talking to managers and owners of valley businesses, if they have a job opening (and that’s a big IF), they’re reporting that they’re seeing more applicants, and that many are clearly overqualified for the job. For the first time in years, the town of Vail didn’t have a problem hiring seasonal bus drivers.

Local tradespeople aren’t seeing many jobs coming in. A longtime painting contractor started the year without one single job lined up. Another well-established electrical contractor is considering a big shift in the company’s business model to general “fix-it” service away from construction projects.

We’re hearing from veteran midvalley retailers and restaurateurs that the downturn is sharper and more worrisome than they’d anticipated several months ago.

Realtors have listings but few buyers. Many second-home owners are probably sitting on the sidelines waiting until more buyers are in the market. And the resort buyers who are in the market are mistakenly thinking there will be a similar south Florida devaluation of property prices.

In all probability, that won’t happen, as, unlike other Sunbelt areas, the county is not overbuilt. But housing demand still exists. At the local work-force housing level, there still are several buyers in line when a deed-restricted Miller Ranch property comes up for sale.

We just can’t tell yet where overall housing values may trend. And we won’t know until second-home owners who may decide to liquidate their real estate assets or locals who move away in search of work put their homes on the market.

What we do know is that there’s a lot of moving pieces to our valley’s economy and now, more than ever, the value of bringing you solid local economic information is vitally important.

Don Cohen is the executive director of the Economic Council of Eagle County. The council’s Web site is

http://www.economiccouncil.biz.


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