Routt County’s improving economy confronts a shortage of workers | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County’s improving economy confronts a shortage of workers

— The welcome news is that Routt County's economy is improving based on retail sales, and unemployment is down. The sobering news for Steamboat Springs business managers and owners is that they may find themselves working in the trenches more than they are accustomed to this ski season.

Yampa Valley Data Partners declared a labor shortage in Routt County in its Fast Facts released Wednesday based on a statistical analysis that shows employment opportunities are out of balance with the work force.

"I think there are going to be a lot of business owners and general managers who are going to be having to carry the load themselves this winter, particularly at restaurants, hotels and the hospitality industry," Randy Rudasics said. "It will be particularly acute when times are most busy. Most restaurant owners might be in the kitchen cooking because they have to, or standing out in the dining room helping people find tables."

Rudasics, manager of the Yampa Valley Entrepreneurship Center at Colorado Mountain College, said all one has to do to understand that there are more service sector jobs available than there are willing workers is to look at the list of help wanted ads in the newspaper.

Data Partners applies the descriptive phrase, "economic stress indicator," to the labor shortage, which is quantified by the ratio of employed workers here to the overall labor force.

When the stress indicator is at zero, jobs and the work force are in balance. But when it's in the plus territory as it is now, at 0.026, employers can find themselves struggling to fill job openings because of a relative scarcity of workers.

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Unemployment here stood at 3.3 percent in October compared to 4.3 percent across Colorado and 5.8 percent nationally, according to the Colorado Workforce Center. Unemployment in Routt County was 3.9 percent as recently as July, according to Data Partners.

Routt County's relatively low unemployment rate, as well as Moffat County's 3.4 percent, were the most favorable in either county since 2008.

It was a different story in July 2011, when Steamboat Today reported that the local economy might be turning around on the fact that the economic stress indicator had risen to .006, up from -.004 in June. That optimistic report a little more than three years ago marked the first time the ratio of employed workers to the labor force had broached plus territory since 2007.

Rudasics said there's a potential upside for business managers who find themselves working more this winter.

"We've had this before, and we know how to toughen up and still provide good service," he said. "There's absolutely a lot of upside in it. Sometimes, when you don't have all of the positions filled, there can be a better profit margin on the back end. You work harder, but there could be a payoff."

There also were mixed economic signs in this month's Fast Facts.

Moffat County's coal production through September was up 12 percent and Routt's was up 2 percent compared to the same period in 2013.

Retail sales in Routt County were up 5 percent over last year, but in spite of strong employment levels in Moffat, retail sales there were down 9 percent.

Moffat County's oil production is far more significant than that of Routt’s, but the two counties were headed in different directions in August.

Oil production in Moffat County in August stood at 30,692 barrels, down 8.1 percent from August 2013, and down 24.6 percent year to date. Routt, with just 5,111 barrels of oil produced in August, was up 6.5 percent from August 2011, but down 8.9 percent year to date.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1