CMC’s commitment: community first
Each June, when most of our mountain resort communities are gearing up to welcome summer visitors and host signature festivals and events, the team at Colorado Mountain College has its first opportunity to exhale and prepare for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1. This year is no different, although conditions in 2019 have added new challenges and opportunities for your local college.
Most of the mountain region is doing well economically. Unemployment rates remain at historic lows, and local sales appear to have rebounded above pre-recession levels. Home prices continue to climb as do the local resident populations. Restaurants are full and crowds are ever-present — as are help wanted signs.
Though its campuses are generally smaller and highly tailored to the specific communities each serves, as a whole, CMC is one of the larger employers on the Western Slope. Consequently, the trends we see at the college level usually reveal realities observed in the broader mountain economy.
The extremely low unemployment rate combined with ever-escalating costs of living in our mountain towns means that all employers are competing for a diminishing number of qualified employees. While this has always been true in remote resort towns, the intensity of the current marketplace is forcing employers to rethink strategies for recruiting and retaining the best employees. CMC is no different.
Historically, colleges like CMC could conduct regional and national searches and expect robust pools of applicants and many highly viable applicants. Over the past year or two, this has changed, especially for executive-level positions. Despite conducting vigorous searches, expending thousands of dollars and devoting hundreds of hours of staff and faculty time, CMC has seen several major national searches fail.
Finalist candidates collide with reality when considering a move to our high-cost region. Their current employers counter CMC’s offer to prevent a highly talented professional from leaving. These results are costly for the college, frustrating for those who participate on the search committees, and a waste of time and talent that could have been applied to CMC’s core role and mission: serving our local communities and feeding the workforce with exceptionally trained nurses, teachers, police and other first responders, firefighters, entrepreneurs and outdoor industry professionals, to name a few.
Certainly, CMC could compromise its principles and just hire “adequate” employees. But why settle for anything less than excellence? My principal responsibility in leading a dynamic college means building the best team possible and promising every member of our team that their work matters — and that they matter. For this reason, CMC will not compromise its quality due to an extremely tight labor market. Instead, we will invest in talented professionals right in our backyard and who are already committed to the region we love.
This strategy is paying off. Over the past year or so, I have authorized a number of “interim” positions, approved several internal promotions and made one external executive appointment to maintain continuity, grow our own talent, and position the college for continued and uninterrupted success. We have focused on increasing our employees’ skills by providing several internal leadership programs to support them in their own professional development. This year, more students graduated from CMC than at any other time in the college’s history, and the college’s operations remain at or below inflation while we make the investments necessary to keep college facilities and technologies up to date.
The current economic circumstances will undoubtedly evolve as the economy matures through its current bull market cycle. A more “normal” cycle of employment will likely return. CMC will not, however, become complacent or lower its standards. We have had to rethink the ways to ensure the college has the human capital it needs to achieve the very ambitious goals it set for itself, but we will never compromise our vision and aspirations. Our world-class communities deserve world-class campuses with world-class leaders. The current employment market won’t trip us up or force us to shift these priorities. This is our commitment to you.
Carrie Besnette Hauser is president & CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at president @coloradomtn.edu and @CMCPresident.