Job seekers have plenty to choose from

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— Sam Kennedy had a lot of options to choose from when looking at the job postings at the Colorado Workforce Center in Steamboat Springs.

Kennedy, a college student, arrived in Steamboat on Wednesday for a second season of skiing, and he was trying to get settled. He carefully eyed the numerous construction job postings.

"Hopefully I can get one," he said.

With Routt County's employment rate near historical lows, it shouldn't be difficult for Kennedy to find a good-paying job. He said he isn't very picky.

"Something I can make the most money at, I guess," Kennedy said.

"It's definitely an employee's market," Colorado Workforce Center employment specialist Brian Bradbury said. "There are more jobs than there are for people to work at that job."

The employment agency reported there are just 35 people in Routt County collecting unemployment benefits. The preliminary June unemployment rate in Routt County is 3.6 percent, a 0.2 percent decrease from June 2005, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. In Moffat County, the June unemployment rate decreased to 4.3 percent from 4.8 percent in June 2005.

There currently are 170 job listings -- many in construction and various trades -- at the employment office in Steamboat. It's good news for people looking for a job, but not as pleasant for businesses that are short staffed and desperate for workers. The demand for laborers has increased wages locally, but that cost will have to get passed off to consumers, local employers say.

Maintenance work is one profession in which Bradbury said wages have increased by several dollars an hour in the past six months.

"We just can't get people to walk in the door," said Mark Walker, vice president of Resort Group, one of Steamboat's largest property management companies. "There is no one to even pick from."

The consensus of local employers seems to be that there is a major labor shortage in the area, Walker said.

"This is a real crisis," he said.

Resort Group subsidiary Mountain Resorts typically employs between 12 and 15 maintenance workers. It currently has seven, said Tim Simmins, Mountain Resorts' vice president of association operations.

"We haven't been able to hire anyone," he said.

It hasn't been for lack of effort, Simmins said. Mountain Resorts advertised the position for many weeks and did not receive any applications.

Simmins said they have had to offer incentives such as a ski pass, a "great" benefits package, housing subsidies and substantially increased wages. The starting wage is about $12 an hour.

Simmins even gave his current workers a blanket raise to reduce the likelihood they would leave the company. He said Mountain Resorts has little choice but to pass the additional costs on to its clients -- local homeowners associations.

Getting laborers hasn't been this difficult since the late 1990s, when the economy was booming and companies were competing for laborers who were working on major construction projects such as the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel and the Yampa Valley Medical Center. Simmins said they have to compete with businesses who are paying people $18 an hour "to be grunts."

"I think it's a bigger deal now than it's ever been in the past," he said. "We're looking at this saying, 'Oh my God.'"

Construction companies are also struggling to find help.

Connell Resources division accountant Catherine Turner said she has used almost every medium of advertising available, regardless of cost, to recruit employees.

"It has been weeks since a new applicant has come through," Turner said.

The construction company has at least 10 openings and has had to resort to pulling in workers from its headquarters in Fort Collins.

Turner said Connell Resources raised wages substantially to compete for workers.

"Just about on all fronts it is pretty difficult to find anyone right now," said Ed MacArthur, owner of Native Excavating. He soon will lose 14 workers who are heading back to college. He has found only four people to replace them.

"We'll just do what we can to get through it," MacArthur said.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said it is always challenging to fill the entry-level seasonal positions, but there are some good signs for the winter.

"We are getting a lot of winter inquiries," Thomsen said.

A locals job fair is being held from noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Steamboat Grand.

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