Vail Valley Partnership’s workforce study shows 1,600 jobs currently open in Eagle County
EAGLE — The saying “if it’s not one thing, then it’s another” can definitely be applied to the employment situation in Eagle County.
When the national recession hit in 2008, the bottom fell out of the local construction industry and lots of people were looking for work. A decade later, the national and local economy have rebounded, but the valley’s labor shortage has re-emerged.
During a Tuesday, July 31, meeting with the Eagle County commissioners, Chris Romer, of the Vail Valley Partnership, relayed a recent discussion he had with the Colorado State Demographer’s office. The state estimates there are currently 1,600 open jobs in Eagle County.
According to the data from the Partnership’s most recent Eagle County Workforce Study, not only is there a boatload of jobs open now, but the situation is likely to get worse. The study showed that 59 percent of the businesses surveyed said they wanted to add between one and four positions in the coming year.
“People want to grow and plan to grow but cannot fill positions open now,” Romer said.
Over the past decade, the Partnership has been collecting information from employers about worker recruitment. The information from 2016-17 compared to 2017-18 is particularly striking. Last year, nearly half of the employers surveyed reported their hiring experience was “good.” This year, nearly half of them reported it was only “fair.”
Two Months to Fill Jobs
The Partnership study shows that more than 50 percent of the time it takes at least two months for local employers to fill open positions. Fifteen percent of the time it takes four months or longer to fill a job, according to the Partnership study. Romer noted four months with a vacant job causes lots of pressure, both for the business that is understaffed and for the other employees, who have to work more to pick up the slack.
What’s more, Romer noted the hiring pressure isn’t confined to just low-paying jobs. Because of its resort economy, Eagle County does have a glut of low-paying, hard-to-fill positions. But that isn’t the whole story, Romer said.
“The pressures are coming from everywhere,” he said. “Anything that requires a skill or a licensure is especially difficult.”
“We simply don’t have enough qualified professionals to run our businesses now,” noted John Shipp, member of the Vail Valley Partnership board and owner of Roadhouse Hospitality Group, which operates the local Dusty Boot restaurants. Shipp said he would like to expand his business, but the employment issue is definitely affecting his ability to do so.
What’s the problem?
Why aren’t there enough employees to go around? Romer cited the big issues in Eagle County — housing, child care, health care and transportation.
“Housing is overwhelmingly a frustration for employees,” Romer said.
The study showed that 61 percent of the employees surveyed cited finding affordable housing as a “major frustration.”
“Housing isn’t keeping up with employment. There is job potential locally, but no housing available,” Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said.
Commissioner Jill Ryan noted the county is focused on the employee housing issue, but because of land and development costs, it is difficult to make the numbers work for new projects.
“We are trying to do what we can to contribute,” she said.
Romer noted various local governments are also attempting to address the housing problem.
“Everyone realizes this is an issue, and everyone is working in a parallel process,” he said.
One initiative is to make sure available units stay available. Romer noted the county has been losing employee housing units to short-term rental programs such as Airbnb.
“We need to find a way to keep the lights on in those units” he said.
The other frustrations for employees are more case-by-case issues. For parents, child care is obviously a concern. For commuters, transportation ranks high. And depending on whether or not their employer offers insurance benefits, health care is a concern.
For all of these issues, Romer urged the county to join with the business community to search for solutions.
“We can’t just hope these things will get better. We need to be intentional,” Romer said.
While policymakers are celebrating a big drop in Colorado’s individual health insurance prices for 2020, they’re also scrambling to combat the sharp decline in the number of carriers in rural parts of the state where 22 of 64 counties have just one option on the Obamacare marketplace.