Scott Wedel: Fact-based economics
July 16, 2017
An editorial printed Sunday in Steamboat Pilot & Today stated, “… we live in an economy that is heavily reliant on the steady influx of tourism dollars." That is an exaggeration. According to U.S. government statistics, tourism-related jobs are 35 percent of Routt County jobs, tourism-related jobs paid an average of $25,510 and non-tourism jobs paid an average of $49,218.
It is true that tourism built Steamboat Springs, but our local economy has substantially moved past tourism. Residents with location-neutral income are now a bigger part of the economy. The same local amenities which attracted tourists has since attracted permanent residents.
That same editorial used an analogy of a small town completely economically dependent upon a polluting paper mill. That analogy would be accurate if rephrased that one third of the local economy was a polluting paper mill and two thirds was better paying biotech jobs. The community is reaching the point of wondering why local government keeps subsidizing the polluting paper mill and the local paper prints editorials supporting the paper mill. A job at the paper mill jobs pay just 52-percent of a biotech job. The polluting paper mill hurts the ability of the biotech companies to perform their work and makes it hard to attract workers.
In other words, I suggest that local tourism has reached the point where its problems can no longer be ignored. The problems are not just the days when the city is severely congested with tourists and quality of life of locals is reduced, which threatens the bigger part of the economy of the income from local neutral residents. There is the community problem that tourism jobs don’t pay enough for those workers to afford local housing. There is talk of new property taxes to subsidize the construction of housing in order to provide subsidized housing for the lower income tourism workers and, thus, allow their employers to continue to pay less than living wages.
It is not possible or desirable to attempt to shutdown or eliminate tourism. I am merely suggesting this newspaper recognize that the local economy is not "heavily reliant on the steady influx of tourism dollars" and not to use an analogy of a town’s economy being exclusively dependent upon a single industry. I ask this paper to print facts recognizing that tourism is one leg of a table and that tourism has negative impacts. I also suggest that the Chamber, when promoting local business activity, also consider tourism's impact upon the larger part of the local economy — the residents not working in tourism jobs.