Romer: Too much of a good thing?
By most traditional measures — sales tax generated, business volume, current and future demand, lodging occupancy — we’re having a great summer with no signs of slowing down as we head into fall and winter.
Just last week, four businesses in four different industries (restaurant, retail, financial services, and construction) shared that they have had the best month or best summer on record. I don’t think it is limited to certain industries, either; the same likely holds true for many activity providers, real estate organizations and professional service organizations.
Yet despite having the “best July ever” or “best summer ever,” these business owners and operators share another common theme: it might be too much of a good thing. Too much of a good thing because they cannot find the workforce to sustain their operations at the same level moving forward, and too much of a good thing because restricting seating or reducing hours is contrary to providing the very best customer experience.
The irony of a business having the best month/season/year and yet being hugely concerned about the vitality of their business isn’t lost on me. Businesses should be celebrating when they break records; instead, they’re reducing hours or closing a few days a week, or otherwise trying to mitigate the workforce shortage.
Some think our workforce challenges will be over Sept. 4 when the federal unemployment program (additional $300) ends. I hope these people are right and will be the first to celebrate if that’s the case. However, there is no data to suggest this to be true and to bank on this being the solution to our workforce shortages seems like politics rather than reality.
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Others think businesses will simply need to increase wages to attract talent. I wish it was that easy, and if it was, I imagine that many business owners would increase wages to keep the doors open on a regular schedule.
The fact is, 92.5% of businesses in Eagle County have fewer than 20 employees. These are the businesses that are struggling to find a workforce. Eagle County unemployment is 5.1% and our labor force participation rate sits at 79%. Our small businesses simply are paying the wages they can afford to pay; we simply don’t have the number of people available to fill the jobs and have lost thousands of people from our local workforce. Some have left Eagle County altogether and others have left the workforce for other reasons such as child care.
Even worse, the data would suggest the labor shortage continues even as unemployment rates fall across the region. Attracting and growing quality jobs is key to building a strong economy and creating opportunities for all Coloradans. Upskilling, reskilling, and next skilling our workforce must be a top priority.
Why focus on our workforce as a key priority area? It’s easy, really: business follows talent, and talent follows the quality of life. We have the quality of life and access to recreation that is the envy of many communities, yet we need to retain and grow our people to maintain this quality of life. Businesses, after all, provide jobs that allow our community to thrive. And our community needs healthy businesses to thrive. Healthy communities and healthy businesses are symbiotic relationships — they need each other.
Just one year ago, suggesting that business volume was so high that it would be too much of a good thing would have been laughable. Yet here we are. Our path forward is to invest in our people, provide skills-based training, and focus on our workforce. Business — and community — success will follow.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com.