Vail Valley, regional economy growing slightly more diverse
Low-wage tourism sector jobs still dominate the region
Eagle County’s economy is diversifying by adding jobs outside the tourist industry.
That’s a positive sign, writes Rachel Lunney, economic development director for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, in her fourth-quarter report.
Construction and health care led job growth numbers, comprising 10% and 8% of Eagle County’s 32,378 jobs.
That also helped push Eagle County’s average wages up slightly. Construction jobs pay an average of $58,812 and health care jobs pay an average of $67,236.
Still, the tourism sector accounts for 44% of all Eagle County jobs. Those jobs have an average annual salary just shy of $35,000 — about $17.50 an hour based on working 2,000 hours a year, according to Lunney’s report.
The tourism and outdoor recreation industry includes accommodations and food services, arts, entertainment, recreation, and retail.
Tourism still tops
Across the five-county NWCCOG region — Eagle, Pitkin, Jackson, Summit and Grand counties — tourism accounts for 46% of the 76,498 jobs in the region, the report said.
“Most of the jobs in this sector are typically lower-skilled, and therefore lower-paying,” Lunney reports.
The annual average wage across the five-county region varies from $54,964 in Pitkin County — which is still below the state annual average wage of $58,656 — to $37,128 in Grand County. Eagle County’s average annual salary across all industries, $46,280, remains more than $12,000 below the state average, the NWCCOG data found.
Pitkin County’s tourism salary jumped up 9% over last year to $48,447, in large part likely due to Aspen Skiing Company increasing their minimum wage to $15 an hour this ski season, Lunney’s report said.
“Tourism and outdoor recreation will always be a key industry in our region,” Lunney reports. “However, to have a more resilient, balanced economy, it is important that community leaders look at strategies to diversify our economy so that we are not so dependent on this sector and the abundant low paying jobs that go along with it.”
Jackson County has the region’s most diverse economy, where 8% of all jobs are in the professional, technical, scientific sector, and pay an annual average salary of $87,084. The construction industry comprises 12% of all Jackson County jobs, paying an annual average wage of $49,764.
Unemployment low, consumer confidence high
Unemployment remains low across the five-county region at 2.2%.
“That is positive in many respects, but makes it very challenging for our businesses to fully staff up for the busy ski season upon us,” Lunney reports.
Across the rest of the country, the stock market is up, and while consumer confidence is down slightly from one month ago, it’s still high at 125.5.
“These macro-indicators affect discretionary income across the U.S. and internationally, which affects the ability for people to travel to our region and spend their ‘extra; money on ski vacations, lodging, recreational activities, shop at our grocery stores and retail shops, and eat at our restaurants,” Lunney reports.