Vail Valley’s workforce woes won’t ease soon
Low wages, high costs and aging workforce point to more labor shortages
EAGLE — Eagle County’s labor shortage won’t ease anytime soon.
Workers are aging out of the workforce and retiring, and not enough younger workers are replacing them, according to state demographer Elizabeth Garner.
“Jobs are people,” Garner said, speaking to a Northwest Colorado Council of Governments conference.
Colorado may be the sixth-youngest state, but it is also the country’s third-fastest aging state. That means Colorado has the nation’s sixth-lowest percentage of people older than 65.
However, the number of people turning 65 is 3.4% per year, the nation’s third largest.
“We don’t have a lot of people over 65, but we have a lot of 64-year-olds, and that number goes up every year,” Garner said.
The number of adults in Eagle County who are older than 65 will double over the next 11 years, Garner said.
“People over 65 can still contribute to the workforce. They have money and they spend it. Having them is economically beneficial,” said Jon Stavney, the executive director of the regional council of governments.
“However, at the rate at we’re aging there will not be enough people in the labor force to fill the jobs available,” Stavney added. “We will have challenges finding workers to fill our workforce. … It’s only going to exacerbate our challenges.”
The state demographer’s data does not account for the high cost of housing, Stavney said, which also exacerbates the problem.
Like the rest of the country, Colorado’s birthrate is slowing. Garner said 5,000 fewer babies have been born each year since 2007.
“Those babies will not be here as workers in 20 years,” Stavney said.
The other side of that coin is that Colorado had the country’s largest decline in teen pregnancy.
“That’s good news because those who make it out of high school without getting pregnant have a 90% chance of not entering a cycle of poverty,” Stavney said.
Local wages lag
Workers in Eagle County earn an average of $46,124 a year, according to a Northwest Colorado Council of Governments wage survey. That’s up 3.4% year-over-year, but it’s still $11,000 less than the state average of $57,408, according to a quarterly jobs report from Colorado’s Department of Labor.
Local average wages lag because the regional economy is dominated by the tourism industry and the low-wage service jobs it tends to generate, explained Rachel Lunney, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ economic development district director.
However, relief may be on the horizon, Lunney said. Over the past five years, the top growing industries are management, manufacturing, construction and transportation.
“It does indicate growth in higher-paying sectors,” Lunney said.
We’re still growing
According to the state demographer’s projections, by 2030 Eagle County will be home to 67,160 people, up from 54,662 at the end of 2017. They’ll be working 51,325 jobs.
That population is up from 52,197 in 2010. The 1870 census found that no one was living in Eagle County, or at least anyone who answered the Census questions.
In 1960, just before the Vail ski area opened in 1962, Eagle County was home to 4,677 souls. By 1990, the population was up to 21,928.
Right now, Eagle County’s population breaks out like this:
Red Cliff: 280
Unincorporated Eagle County (including Edwards): 24,011
Gore Creek since 2013 has been listed on the state’s list of “impaired waterways.” Several years of work are paying off, but getting off the list has become more difficult.