Vail Valley Partnership column: Low unemployment is good, unless …

Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership

You are an employer looking to grow or expand your business, and you need to hire employees. Eagle County currently has 1.7 percent unemployment and some rather obvious community challenges (housing and health insurance costs continue to percolate to the top of the list).

Vail Valley Economic Development (through Vail Valley Partnership) has been conducting a workforce survey in Eagle County since 2006-07. The survey asks employers about their business outlook, their employees and their forecasts for the future. Additional items this year ask about the adequacy of local child-care facilities and the impact this has on recruiting and retaining employees. Prior survey results can be found at

Some conclusions from the 2016-17 Workforce Survey:

• Business owners and managers predict minimal change in the economy, in general, for the upcoming year. However, predictions for the upcoming year about the vitality of their own business improved somewhat. Similarly, a modest decline was seen among respondents in terms of opinions regarding current economic conditions in the county in general, but current views on the health of their own business moved in a positive direction.

• Predictions about the ability to hire and retain employees in the upcoming year moved in a negative direction for the fifth straight year.

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• Frustration with housing continues to grow and moved in a negative direction from 2015-16. Negative opinions about housing are higher than ever found in the history of conducting the survey. Almost three out of four businesses feel that the housing situation negatively impacts their ability to hire and retain employees, and this issue was mentioned frequently when asked about additional resources that are needed.

• About half of the businesses feel that their employees have a negative opinion of the availability of affordable child care, an issue that was introduced to the survey for the first time this year. About one out of four businesses feel that lack of child care negatively impacts their ability to hire and retain employees.

• Providing health insurance for employees continues to be a challenge.

• Companies throughout Eagle County provide a variety of workforce wellness options, and the percentage of businesses offering various options has generally increased or stayed the same over the past five years. Some of the most common options include accommodations for fitness possibilities during the workday, breastfeeding, reduced or free access to exercise facilities and incentives for healthy behaviors.

• Businesses that report plans to expand and/or diversify increased in 2015-16 and are at the highest level in the past four years.

Our business community — as demonstrated by the workforce study results — is generally optimistic. But we have some significant community issues to address to support business growth and career pathways; these are intricately connected and require a concerted community effort.

The annual workforce study is a useful tool to identify key needs of our business community. Addressing workforce issues is a process, not a quick fix. It is why we are thrilled to be selected as the first rural community to have the honor of implementing the CareerWise apprenticeship program with our school system.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at

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