Vail Daily column: Brakes we need | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Brakes we need

Don Rogers
Valley Voices
Don Rogers
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

Most indicators in the 2015 Vail Valley Workforce Report show slight declines in perception of our economy.

All the actual markers are up — by quite a bit. Sales tax revenue. Real estate transactions and dollar volume. Building permits. And unemployment is way down. It’s looking really good, in fact.

What gives?

Human nature, maybe. Polls of what people think about the economy tend to run below what the data show. Irrational exuberance from time to time among stock market players and real estate speculators aside.

Or maybe it’s that statistics can’t help but reflect what’s in the rearview mirror, while our fears run ahead, sometimes wildly. Sure, there’s optimism, too. But as a species we’re far more hardwired for bad news. We grip our fears much tighter than our hopes, especially while contemplating the future.

At the Vail Daily, we’re growing at maybe the best rate over last year in the nation for a newspaper. It’s just not quite as brisk as in 2014.

This puts us more in line with the Workforce Report than the actual indicators. The response to a question in the report about how a business is doing this year vs. last matches our slight decline in pace of growth for the first time since the same period in 2009-10. A plateau.

I don’t think this is a bad thing. Growth was more in the crazy town range not just here, but everywhere, during the big boom.

The statistics and the survey results suggest steady growth since 2010. Bad for the speculators, perhaps, but a little closer to a sustainable trend line for our valley.

If so, it may be that the return of some key challenges are applying some gentle brakes we need rather than the huge obstacles we make them out to be.

I’m thinking about transportation, housing and even wages, mainly.

Housing by far got the most comments from survey takers in the Workforce Report. At the Daily, we had recruits turn us down for the first time since the recession over pay, saying they couldn’t make it work with the cost of housing here.

A RealtyTrac-Clear Capital report in September pegged Eagle County as having the least affordable housing compared to wages in the country. Other factors may skew things, but the base point is correct: Housing is really, really expensive here.

Wages have become an interesting political issue across the country. “Progressive” thinkers mistake raising the minimum wage for some kind of magic wand to fix income disparity. If only. What happens instead is everything just gets more expensive, leaving the same problem in its wake, only worse.

The Workforce Report’s finding of good employees being harder to find holds more long-term hope, even if the same forces play out in business costs getting passed on to the consumer. The difference is this is a strategic business decision aimed at fulfilling real needs at the right levels rather than a clumsy government misstep at the lowest rung.

Alas, regardless of minimum wage mandates, pay follows the cost of labor rather than the cost of living. Employers only pay more when that’s what it takes to pick up acceptable employees. In plain talk, as it gets harder to hire, pay tends to rise.

Transportation challenges, for all the hand-wringing over I-70’s weekend gridlock and push to subsidize flights, may also help keep the economy from overheating.

Look, for all these big huge traffic problems, our sales tax revenue countywide is running at 9 percent over last year so far. That’s about the highest anywhere right now and a reflection of the tourist economy. You know, the folks who drive and fly to our valley.

Looks like enough visitors are finding their way here, for all of our challenges, to lead the nation in this part of the economy.

In a way, costly housing, lower wages and gridlock have risen just in time to save us from ourselves.

Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.