Vail Valley economy: There’s life after layoffs |

Vail Valley economy: There’s life after layoffs

Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyDiana Honey Kiss holds her West Vail, Colorado family's change bucket as she considers whether they will get to use it for spending money on their family vacation or whether it will go towards a mortgage payment.

VAIL, Colorado ” For months, Diana Honey Kiss sensed that her job in Colorado’s Vail Valley was coming to an end.

The construction project where she worked as a project coordinator was nearing completion. And construction was slowing across the valley. When the temporary walls of her office in the bowels of the Arrabelle at Vail Square construction site were torn down, she figured the end was near.

Just before Thanksgiving, she was laid off from her job with Shaw Construction, and Kiss joined a growing legion of local workers who are without jobs. Eagle County’s unemployment rate increased to 4.3 percent in December, up from 3.1 percent the previous year.

Kiss, a West Vail resident, found that prospects for find a new job in or around Vail weren’t great.

“I’m looking and looking,” Kiss said. “There are a few low-paying retail or ski-shop part-time jobs, and that’s about it right now. There’s not a lot out there.”

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She has found a couple of part-time jobs, one as the emcee of a trivia night at Main Street Grill, and another doing temp work for Vail Resorts. Her husband continues to work, but without a substantial second income, the Kisses are changing their spending habits.

They don’t eat out. What they do eat, at home, is determined by what’s on sale at the supermarket. Kiss has taken to turning the heat down at their house. She even drives on Highway 6 rather than Interstate 70 for better fuel efficiency.

“I’m quite resourceful, and I can stretch a penny pretty much further than anybody else,” she said.

There are new choices that must be made, too. Do they buy the new garage door, or do they buy the new washing machine?

She draws unemployment benefits, which should last through summer, and she believes a turnaround is coming for the local economy, especially as a luxury resort economy.

Before her career in construction, Kiss worked in the radio business for many years. She said she’d like to return to a job in media, public relations, event planning or marketing.

“I’m not crazy worried,” she said. “I’m OK. For now.”

Justin Carr, an architect, thought his job could last well into 2009. Turned out, as development slowed, the projects that he thought were going to materialize for his company, VAg Inc. Architects and Planners, never did.

He was let go at the beginning of December.

And, Carr found, there are few, if any, local jobs out there for architects ” especially for architects like Carr who are at the beginning of their careers.

The help-wanted ads in the local paper had shrunk from several pages to just a sliver of a page, and online sites such as Craigslist had little to offer, he said. There weren’t even that many non-architecture jobs out there, he said.

So Carr turned to another opportunity ” graduate school.

“I’m not so sure the economy is going to rebound and the architecture business is going to rebound quickly enough for me to have a job this year,” said Carr, of Edwards. “I wanted to make sure I took the right step to move myself along.”

Last weekend, Carr headed to Denver to take the required test for his grad school application. Should grad school not work out, his backup backup plan is working for a fly-fishing shop.

For now, he’s cooking meals at home rather than going out. And when he does go out, he looks for deals. The Dusty Boot in Beaver Creek has a great one, he has found.

As he waits to hear whether he has been accepted to graduate school, Carr is skiing frequently.

“I already had my ski pass,” he said.

Otherwise, he’s holding off on buying nonessentials.

“There’s a lot of stuff that I would have purchased that I absolutely have not,” he said.

As one job ended, Meggen Kirkham forged a new one of her own creation. Kirkham, who was Vail Mountain brand marketing manager and had worked for Vail Resorts for nearly a decade, was laid off in early December.

Kirkham was one of 50 people whose jobs were eliminated as part of cutbacks announced by CEO Rob Katz. Another 92 unfilled positions were axed. The measures were a response to the ailing economy, Katz said then.

“It’s not something that you expect nor want to hear,” Kirkham said.

But, Kirkham said, she understood where the company was coming from in eliminating her job.

“Understanding the situation and the economy and knowing that it was not something they wanted to do, it just, unfortunately was the way things happened,” she said.

Kirkham, of Eagle-Vail, quickly saw a new opportunity ” creating her own marketing consulting company. Days after the layoff ” in fact, while she was still working for Vail Resorts ” she filed a business application for her new company, SITE Marketing.

“It was something that had been brewing in my mind for quite some time,” she said.

As one door closed, another opened, she said. She landed her first account Jan. 15, with the Vail Local Marketing District, even before she was scheduled to receive her first unemployment benefit payment.

“It was the perfect opportunity,” she said.

Elizabeth Morales of Gypsum was laid off a week before Christmas.

“Merry Christmas to me,” Morales said.

She thought there were just enough employees at her Eagle bank branch to get their work done. The bosses at American National Bank, though, decided there were simply too many employees there.

Cuts needed to be made, and four people, including Morales, lost their jobs a week before Christmas.

Morales, a teller, had been there for nine months. Another woman who was laid off had been there for seven years.

“There weren’t a ton of people there,” Morales said. “Everyone had their responsibilities. It was a shock. It was a definite shock.”

While her husband works in the construction industry, the family relies on Morales’ income, too, to help pay for utilities, groceries and the mortgage.

She started submitting her resume for the few jobs she found in the newspaper and online. She tried to sign up for unemployment benefits via the Internet, but it proved difficult, and she gave up, she said.

“I tried twice and said, ‘To heck with it,'” she said.

Morales, who used to work for the Eagle County School District, contacted her former employer to see if there were any opportunities there. In fact, there were, and Morales landed a job in January as an infant-toddler supervisor at the new Red Table Early Learning Center.

“I’m ecstatic,” she said. “Just like every other local that lives here, we needed that second paycheck.”

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or

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