Vail Valley Partnership CEO: In the Vail Valley and elsewhere, ‘jobs’ are ultimately people (column)
We often write about workforce in this column. What, exactly, is “workforce?” And why the focus on “workforce” in a business column from the chamber of commerce?
Workforce is the balance between people and jobs. Simply stated, jobs are people. So talking about workforce is talking about the opportunities that exist for our people. It just so happens that workforce is the intersection of jobs and people — jobs and people are one and the same.
Eagle County and other rural resort areas are often thought of as low-wage communities due to our dependence on tourism and hospitality jobs — those are typically lower-paying professions and positions.
While our economy is driven by the tourism sector (61 percent of jobs), it’s not necessarily true that our economy consists only of low-wage positions.
Consider that we have as many high wage positions (defined as $55,800-$129,700) per year jobs as we do low wage positions (defined as $32,300-$34,400 per year). In fact, 36 percent of our jobs are low wage, 29 percent are mid wage, and 35 percent high wage. Our economy — for a rural resort, tourism-driven economy — is remarkably balanced.
The good news is our job growth in 2017 was overwhelmingly in mid-wage ($36,400-$53,700) and high-wage positions — 88 percent — and not in low-wage positions (only 12 percent of job growth in this sector).
Compare this to our neighboring counties. Lake County has 40 percent of jobs in low wage employment and 17 percent in high wage. They also see their highest growth in low wage positions. Pitkin County’s job base is 29 percent low wage but only 16 percent high wage jobs; their growth is primarily in the mid-range category (58 percent of growth). Across the pass in Summit County, 46 percent of jobs are low wage and 31 percent are high wage and 69 percent of job growth is in low wage positions.
So why is it important to talk about our workforce, and the continued health of our business community? Because quality of life starts with a good job, and the data supports the fact that Eagle County’s growth is being driven by mid and high wage jobs.
How do we continue to attract, and more importantly, retain the best workers for the right jobs to support our business community?
How do we address our aging population?
What strategies exist to increase labor force participation?
How do we plan for risks?
How does the community adjust to the growing diversity at our youngest ages, within an overall economy that continues to grow but at a slowing rate from our peak growth rates from the early 1990s through 2007?
The answer to each of these questions requires a thoughtful and strategic focus on our people who make up our workforce. Our workforce relates jobs to our growing population. It is all connected — jobs, population, housing, infrastructure.
Despite Eagle County’s growth of mid and high wage jobs, the demand for skilled workers far outweighs the supply. Businesses across industry sectors and geography face a critical shortage of high-value, high-skill workers. I’m talking about workers whose jobs demand creativity, wisdom, judgment, skill and empathy.
To compete, we must continuously teach our people new skills. It’s why we focus so much of our efforts on workforce related issues. The answer to the questions above come back to one theme: jobs are people, and we need to focus on our people in order to fill our jobs.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.
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