Workforce survey paints mixed picture |

Workforce survey paints mixed picture

EAGLE COUNTY — An annual survey of local business owners and managers shows some skepticism about future economic growth and a lot of worry about housing.

Those are two of the major findings in the 2016 Workforce Survey, a project of Vail Valley Economic Development, an arm of the Vail Valley Partnership, which is the region’s chamber of commerce.

The survey has been conducted since 2005, and it asks valley employers large and small for their opinions on topics including housing, health insurance and the valley’s overall economic health. In the time the survey has been conducted, it has measured the highs, lows and current state of the local economy, from boom to bust to robust recovery.

According to this year’s survey, employers for the first time in four years are less bullish about the valley’s economic growth in the coming year.

Economic headwinds?

Compared to the 2014-15 survey, far more employers believe the economy will be worse or about the same in the coming year. Those who see “improving trends” in the valley’s economy have declined from roughly 70 percent in the previous three years to about 40 percent in the most recent survey. That decline isn’t nearly as steep when individual employers are asked about their own businesses, with just more than half seeing better days in the next 12 months.

Similarly, a number of businesses report they’re planning to either expand or diversify their operations in the coming year. But finding employees could be difficult. Nearly 43 percent of surveyed businesses reported a “good or excellent” experience finding new employees. But the labor force is tight, with Eagle County’s official unemployment rate averaging just 3.1 percent in 2015, and 58 percent of businesses reported having vacant positions during the survey period.

That vacancy rate isn’t as high as the one reported in 2007-08, the last year of the previous decade’s economic boom. But businesses have far more vacancies than they did during the depths of the valley’s economic slump, when unemployment in the valley exceeded the state’s averages. And 20 percent of those taking the survey said their experience finding employees ranged from “poor” to “terrible.”

While it’s harder to hire these days, pay and benefits still aren’t far from state averages. About half of employers believe they pay roughly the same as similar businesses elsewhere in Colorado, while about one-third say they pay more. But the number of businesses that pay less than state averages has grown slightly, to 12 percent of all respondents.

The story is roughly the same when it comes to benefits, although the number of businesses offering retirement plans, health, vision, dental and life insurance peaked during the 2011-12 survey.

Wellness programs are growing, though, with more employers offering workday fitness programs, free or reduced-price access to exercise facilities and providing incentives for healthy behaviors.

Our biggest worry

But housing remains the biggest concern among business owners and managers.

More than half of all surveyed employees report that finding housing they desire at an affordable price is a source of “major frustration.”

Add in the 30 percent responding that finding housing “could be better,” and that’s the vast majority of those who responded to the survey.

Nearly 70 percent of managers and business owners say housing has a negative effect on their ability to attract, hire and retain employees.

Comments from those surveyed — all of which were anonymous — reflected that frustration:

• For new hires recruited from out of state, we lack affordable housing.

• Most of my associates have to work two and three jobs in order to live up here.

• With the exception of our managers, our employees spend the majority of their monthly income on housing and have a longer commute from the places that they are able to find.

While housing is a chronic problem in the Vail Valley, Vail Housing Director Alan Nazzaro has said the current situation is as bad as it’s ever been, even during the boom days that ended in 2008.

Between housing, pay and other factors, a full 25 percent of employers and managers believe it’s going to be harder to hire and retain employees in the coming year. On the other hand, about 60 percent believe the situation will remain about as it is now.

Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at and 970-748-2930

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