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Workforce shrinking, jobs increasing

Alison Miller
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Finding a job in Eagle County was easy for Sara Jo Kukulka, a clerk at Copy Copy in Avon.

Kukulka found a job the first day she went looking for one, and when she left her previous job she was hired at Copy Copy within a week, she said.

“I got an interview and was offered the job within hours of e-mailing my application for it,” Kukulka said. “Jobs are easy to come by, it’s getting paid enough to live here that’s the hard part.”



There are more jobs available than employees to fill them all, says the Eagle County Economic Council, which just released its latest labor report.

“We only have 3 percent unemployment in the county, but what that really means is that we don’t have any,” said Kathy Chandler-Henry, a member of the economic council. “The number of jobs projected for next year and the coming years is higher than our workforce. Everybody who wants a job can have one.”

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Having trouble filling jobs with workers is part of a larger housing problem ” many employees can’t afford to live where they work, and more and more workers are commuting from further away than before, she said.

The cost of living in the county is so high, Kukulka said she and her boyfriend can’t afford to live here anymore and will move back to New York after having lived in Avon for four years.

“We’re paying $890 a month for a one-bedroom that’s basically a studio apartment at Eaglebend,” Kukulka said. “It is the lowest income housing out here and it is turning into a bit of a slum, but that’s all we can afford. We would love to live somewhere else in the county but can’t afford to.”



Of the 4,236 employees who were surveyed for the study, nearly one-quarter of them live outside of Eagle County in Garfield, Summit or Lake counties.

The employees of Venture Sports all live in Eagle County, but they all live with three or four other people in order to afford the housing, said Keith Rattray, manager of Venture Sports in Avon.

“I think there’s a large amount of individuals who come and find out the cost of living is overwhelming,” Rattray said. “Even myself as a manager would have to say it will take me five more years of 60 hour weeks before I can buy a house ” $300,000 at the least is outrageous for us working stiffs around here.”

Randy Griffin, a spokesman for City Market in Avon, said the supermarket has had a harder time recently filling open positions.

“Less people are willing to commute for our type of jobs, and the problem has become more prevalent with the cost of gasoline,” Griffin said.

City Market has no trouble filling “front-line” service positions, but higher level openings can be hard to fill, Griffin said.

“We fill most of our positions quickly, but management positions can take months to hire for,” Griffin said. “It’s a tight labor market and I would say retention is more of an issue than finding an employee.”

City Market helps pay for upper-management’s housing, but the managers are not the employees that typically have high turnover, Griffin said.

Eagle County’s unemployment rate is 1 percent lower than the state average and decreased by 2 percent over the past three years.

How much employers pay and the retention rate of employees was also a focuses of the study, Chandler-Henry said.

“It’s not a crisis yet, but it needs to be addressed before there are jobs but nobody left willing to commute to fill them.,” she said.

Two-thirds of employers need one month to find a new hire, while the other third report needing longer, according to the report.

“It’s always tough during the ski season to find someone,” Rattray said. “Jobs are a dime a dozen here, and I have had some times where I had to hire someone I wouldn’t normally hire because it’s hard to find anyone.”

There has been a 10 percent increase in jobs since 2003, and assuming everyone who can work takes a job in Eagle County, there are 10,000 to 11,000 jobs left that will not be filled unless somebody commutes from outside the county, the report states.

A combination of high housing prices and a demand for employees accounts for the county’s 4.5 percent rate of employee turnover, Chandler-Henry said.

Employers in Vail seem to offer more attractive benefits packages to their employees and higher pay to keep their workers, she said.

“Most everyone knows that there can be, and is, an attitude that if the employee doesn’t like their job they can find another one very easily,” Griffin said. “It can be difficult to manage employees who know there is another job right around the corner.”

To encourage employees to stay, or take the job in the first place, Rattray said Venture Sports buys ski passes for all their full-time employees the day they start.

Staff writer Alison Miller can be reached at 748-2928 or armiller@vaildaily.com.


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