Vail grapples with tight labor market
November 26, 2007
VAIL ” It’s as tough as ever to find decent help this winter in Vail, according to local employers.
“We’re looking to hire two or three people, and we’re having a devil of a time,” said Rob LeVine, general manager of the Antlers condominiums in Lionshead.
LeVine links the scarcity of candidates to the lack of affordable housing around the resorts. When LeVine has an open spot in one of the Antlers’ nine employee housing units, the application pour in, he said.
“We get to pick the best of the pool when we have housing available,” he said.
But without housing to offer, the qualified applicants are few and far between, he said.
The Vail Daily had 302 help-wanted ads in its paper on Nov. 21, compared to 271 for the same date last year.
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“I have been running an ad in (the Vail Daily) since Oct. 20, and usually get a good amount of applications, some good, some bad,” said Ron Weinstein, owner of Roxy in Vail and Beaver Creek. “We’re not (even) getting bad applications.”
Weinstein, who has two openings now, said he might have to close earlier in the evenings this winter because of a lack of workers. He fears that will ultimately hurt the experience of guests, he said.
Dave Chapin, an owner of Vendetta’s in Vail Village, said the restaurant is lucky to have a lot of longtime employees that it can count on. But it still needs to hire some seasonal workers, and the labor market seems tight, he said.
“This is the hardest year we’ve seen, yes,” Chapin said.
Vail Resorts, operator of Vail and Beaver Creek mountains and the largest employer in the county, hires hundreds of seasonal workers each year.
“Vail’s hiring this year is consistent with where we’ve been,” said Jen Brown, a spokeswoman for the company, in an e-mail.
It was not clear whether that meant they were ahead of or behind target in their hiring. Brown did not say how many seasonal workers the company hires, calling the information “confidential.” However, last year, Vail Mountain said it aimed to hire 1,700 winter workers.
Steve Kaufman, an owner of the Tap Room, said the restaurant and bar is well staffed because it has many year-round employees. But, still, the restaurant is not seeing as many people walking in asking for job applications, he said.
“We’re not seeing the volume we normally do,” he said.
Denise Triba, vice president of human resources for the Vail Valley Medical Center, said she senses that the labor market is tight, but the medical center has gotten lucky in filling most of its seasonal positions.
“We’ve rocked and rolled this year,” she said.
John Power of the town of Vail said the town has filled about 90 percent of its seasonal jobs, which include bus drivers and parking attendants. It’s getting harder to fill those jobs, he said.
“Each year is getting increasingly more difficult,” he said.
Don Cohen, executive director of the Economic Council of Eagle County, said he senses that the labor pool of seasonal workers will be sufficient.
“I think it’ll be tight, but I don’t think it will be much different than what we’ve seen in previous years,” he said.
Still, businesses are not filling all available jobs, and are counting on employees to work overtime, Cohen said.
“I think they are making do,” he said. “I don’t think it’s having a negative effect on their balance sheets.”
Perhaps more problematic is finding and retaining managers, who don’t want to live in seasonal housing, Cohen said.
Nonetheless, some are calling for Vail to maximize its for-rent, seasonal housing.
LeVine said he’s like to see Timber Ridge – the town-owned affordable housing complex – redeveloped into as many worker homes as possible.
“They cannot make it dense enough over there,” he said.