Vail Valley’s winter unemployment spikes |

Vail Valley’s winter unemployment spikes

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” Colorado’s Vail Valley is seeing its share of unemployment and economic hardships, but is still faring better than the rest of the state.

In December, unemployment hit 4.3 percent in Eagle County, compared to 5.9 percent statewide, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

November 2008 looked even bleaker, with Eagle County unemployment at 5 percent, while the rest of the state was at 5.7 percent.

Winter unemployment rates for Eagle County are usually in the lower 3 percent range.

This is the first season in 30 years that Antlers Condominiums in Vail has had to lay off employees for lack of work, said general manager Rob LeVine.

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Still, LeVine, a Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry board member, said that in general the resort areas do better than the rest of the state.

“We in the resorts are doing slightly better than the average ” that translates to lower unemployment and better production,” he said. “(Other areas) are downright scared, and business is a struggle. We’ve had some layoffs, but my impression is that other industries have had to do even more than that.”

Economically, this has been the toughest winter yet for the area, many agreed.

Even the economic dip following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 doesn’t compare, said Don Cohen, executive director of the Economic Council of Eagle County.

“We didn’t miss a beat here in 2001,” he said. “We stayed at a comfortable level of unemployment and never had significant layoffs. We didn’t see 77,000 jobs lost in one day. 2001 was a category 1 storm ” we’re at least to a category 4.”

John Power, Vail’s human resources director, said that while the town hasn’t had to cut any staff this season, the real test will come when Vail’s sales tax revenues come in for the next couple months, he said.

Still, Colorado is doing well compared to the rest of the country, Power pointed out.

“(Our numbers) are not surprising. There’s a whole list of states hitting the 10 percent (unemployment rate),” he said.

Revenue-wise, this has been the “toughest winter by far” that Manor Vail general manager Bob McCleary can remember ” but the best hiring season, too.

Manor Vail hotel and condos re-opened in November after a major renovation and had to rehire almost 100 new employees.

“I was sweating bullets big time that we wouldn’t get people,” McCleary said. “But we’re fully staffed and still getting a number of people applying and stopping by. I know that has never happened before.”

The hotel has seen both local and international applicants for a variety of positions, he said.

Eagle County human resources manager Lynn Laposky said the county receives applications even when there aren’t job openings.

“We’re getting two to three times more qualified individuals (applying to an open position), and the quality of the applicant has gone up significantly,” Laposky said.

The economy might be tough once ski season ends, a time historically followed by an unemployment spike.

In May 2008, unemployment rates for the county jumped to 4.6 percent. In May 2007, the jobless rate jumped to 3.6 percent.

But this year might be more dramatic, Cohen said.

“Will our spring unemployment spike higher and stay higher?,” he said. “Many people just basically left our job market. In other metro areas, the unemployed might stay around for quite a while. But if there aren’t job opportunities here, people will probably just move.”

Fewer people might be moving to the area in search of opportunity, and what jobs do open up will probably be taken by locals, Cohen said.

However, Power said he is optimistic about the area’s ability to recover. People will continue coming to Vail in search of work and looking for the Vail experience, he said.

The town of Vail still plans to recruit internationally next season, he said.

“It’s a place people want to be. They’re here for the experience, not just the job,” he said.

He thinks the real estate and tourism market can make a return, too, especially with the baby boomer generation nearing retirement.

“The baby boomers who are impacted by this ” they’re still going to retire at some point,” he said. “It’s going to happen, and when it does, we’re going to be an attractive location.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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