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Hiring challenge poised to get tougher

KIM MARQUIS

BRECKENRIDGE – Kathy Gumph, owner of The Allaire Timbers Inn, a bed and breakfast in Breckenridge, had an appointment scheduled Friday morning to interview a prospective new employee for an assistant innkeeper position.

The interviewee no-showed.

Gumph said it is a common occurrence that is just a small example of the larger challenge of staffing a small business in Summit County.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., a Breckenridge restaurant, currently is preparing for the summer tourist season by advertising for servers, hosts, retail sales and kitchen positions.

“It’s a challenge,” said server manager Brian Ziegler.

“It can get competitive, especially if we wait too long.”

Ziegler said he’s had better success filling positions by nabbing a potential employee when they walk in for an application.

“Lots of times we start making phone calls and find they’ve already accepted another position,” he said.

If local business owners and managers like Gumph and Ziegler think finding workers is difficult in today’s labor market, the future is poised to bring only more frustration.

According to Jeff Thredgold, an economic futurist who spoke at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Economic Development Council’s economic conference Thursday, the current tight work force situation is only a glimpse into what the future will bring as the labor force changes.

The nation’s work force is projected to grow by only 1 percent, while by next year, only one of eight workers will be white males.

That means the majority of future entrants into the labor force will be minority. Many will be immigrants, both legal and illegal, Thredgold said.

“The most important thing facing businesses owners of the future will be access to labor,” he said.

“Small businesses will be frustrated to fill open positions with qualified people.”

Colorado’s unemployment rate is currently 5.1 percent, compared to last year’s 6.2 percent.

This year, 35,000 jobs are expected to be created in the state, but Thredgold said figures are skewed by tabulation methods, which rely heavily on information from large companies and incomplete information from small companies.

Job creation in the country, and particularly in Colorado’s High Country, is a function of small businesses (with the exception of ski areas). As an example, Thredgold noted that 430,000 people in the nation are making a living selling stuff on eBay.

Summit County could benefit in its future labor needs from the Hispanic segment of the area’s growing population.

By 2010, the county’s permanent population is expected to grow at 12.4 percent, according to statistics compiled by the Summit County planning department.

That compares to a nationwide population increase of 8.6 percent during the same time period.

If trends continue, many of the area’s new residents will be nonwhite.

In Summit County, the nonwhite population increased 614 percent between 1990 and 2000 and nearly half of those new residents were between 20 and 34 years old.

Future workers also may come from the senior population, which is expected to keep working after retirement, according to Thredgold.

“Retiring at 65 is going to go away,” Thredgold said.

While seniors may choose to leave their careers, they will still work, so employers who are willing to be flexible with scheduling by agreeing to afternoon-only shifts or hiring employees to work only a few days a week may be able to pull from this segment of the population.

A recent Northwest Colorado Council of Governments report indicated the region’s second homeowners – who currently own 67 percent of Summit homes – plan to live in their High Country residences full time after retiring from careers.

When that happens, and if Thredgold is correct in forecasting that seniors will still work as they age, the demographic could potentially add to the local work force.

In the meantime, Gumph, who has been in business here 13 years, said she thought the fewer number of “Help Wanted” ads she noticed in the newspaper would make staffing easier this summer.

“I thought with less jobs available, the cream of the crop would come through,” she said. “But I’m just not seeing it.”

Kim Marquis can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249 or kmarquis@summitdaily.com.


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