Report: Eagle County work force shrank by 20 percent |

Report: Eagle County work force shrank by 20 percent

Scott N. Miller
Vail Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Since the Economic Council of Eagle County was created in 2003, the group has dealt almost exclusively with how to deal with unchecked growth. Not anymore.

After years of reports about housing shortages and potential transportation problems in the county, the most recent report from the county-funded group contains several pages of sobering information. But the fact that jumps off the page is about the county’s work force.

In 2008, almost 31,000 people were employed in Eagle County. That number is just for those who received federal W2 forms and doesn’t count freelance or under-the-table workers.

By the third quarter of 2010, that number had shrunk to about 24,750, a decline of 20 percent.

The biggest hit has come in the construction industry, which has shrunk its employment rolls by more than 46 percent. There have been double-digit declines in most other employment categories in the county.

The only sectors that saw increases were public administration, utilities and health care and social assistance.

That the construction industry has hit hard times is common knowledge, but this report puts the state of the business in real numbers.

The bad news doesn’t stop with employment.

Foreclosures in the county set a new record last year, and while the real estate business is picking up somewhat from its 2009 bottom, indications are that the rebound will be a slow one.

The number of building permits issued in 2010 is significantly off the peak numbers in 2007, but more worrisome is the value of those permits. Very few of those permits are for homes or other structures. Most are for remodeling projects.

“I believe growth will come back very slowly,” Economic Council Chairman Don Cohen said during a Tuesday meeting with the Eagle County commissioners.

But, Cohen added, the county government for the first time in decades has an opportunity to try to guide future economic development in a direction that isn’t as reliant on construction jobs and relatively low-wage service jobs.

While Cohen said the current slump gives the county a chance to try to guide future development, Commissioner Jon Stavney said there’s only so much government can do to prod the private sector.

A bigger concern, Stavney said, is that there seems to be a relative lack of energy for new projects. Many people in their 40s, like Stavney, are leaving the valley, he said.

Despite the gloomy news, Cohen believes Eagle County has a chance now to reshape its economy for the decades to come.

Some of those ideas will probably end up in an economic-development plan due to be submitted by May 15 to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Local town officials and the county’s various chambers of commerce will be invited to bring their own ideas to the plan.

But commissioners Sara Fisher and Peter Runyon said they hope the plan brings some new ideas for revitalizing the county’s economy.

“If we’re talking about just ‘bring more,’ then we’re going to lose out,” Fisher said.

Runyon agreed, saying that a straight tourist economy creates some management jobs and a lot of lower-paying jobs but not much in the middle of the income scale.

“We want to fill in that middle sector,” Runyon said.

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