Little impact expected from Vail Resorts pay raise | SummitDaily.com

Little impact expected from Vail Resorts pay raise

Scott N. Miller
smiller@vaildaily.com

EAGLE COUNTY — Vail Resorts is the biggest single employer in the county. But, local business owners don't expect the company's recent announcement of a $10 per hour minimum wage to put more pressure on them.

The new starting wage across Vail Resorts will affect about 7,500 people across the company's resort, lodging and retail operations. About 25,000 people work for the company during peak seasons. The company's $10-per-hour starting wage — along with ski passes and other benefits — still puts the company behind most local employers.

"We pay well above ($10 per hour), and I don't know of anybody who pays less than $10," Venture Sports owner Mike Brumbaugh said. "I don't think (Vail Resorts' move) will affect us."

Declining Unemployment Rates

Pay and benefits will be important for employers in the coming months. An annual workforce report from Vail Valley Economic Development, a part of the Vail Valley Partnership, shows that unemployment in the county has declined significantly from the highs seen between 2009 and 2012.

The county's workforce, which saw a loss of about 6,000 jobs during the economic slump, is also recovering, with a labor force of more than 31,000 reported in 2014.

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The service industry — lodging, restaurant, retail and entertainment — accounts for nearly half of the county's total employment.

"Housing and labor issues are very much a concern for the business community," Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer said. "Vail Resorts is reacting to the local environment. They've seen they need to pay more to attract employees."

Stiff Competition

That competition is stiff. Even with a ski pass as part of a Vail Resorts job, Romer said that the company's Epic Pass — priced for the coming season at $769 for an unrestricted pass and $579 for a restricted pass — is more attainable for more people. That means that the promise of a pass may not have the cachet it once did.

And some other large employers can go benefit-for-benefit with the ski company. Robert Purdy, general manager of the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, said that any of that hotel's full-time employees with more than 12 months of service are eligible for 12 nights of lodging in any Hyatt hotel in the U.S. Add in a meal every day, and it's easy to understand why some of the hotel's staff have been working slopeside at Beaver Creek since the hotel opened in the 1980s.

In Vail, Antlers Lodge General Manager Rob LeVine said he was surprised with the resort company's announcement.

"I'd assumed that the starting wage was $11 or $12 an hour," LeVine said. "When I do my comparison in (the Antlers') competitive set, the starting wage is $12 or more."

'Step in the Right Direction'

Still, LeVine said, the Vail Resorts' announcement is a "step in the right direction … Every little bit helps (for employees)."

While the wage announcement apparently leaves Vail Resorts on the low end of the local beginning-wage scale, Romer said the company made a smart move.

"It's a reaction to a free-market environment," he said. "That should be how every business should act."

And, the resort company may not be finished competing on the wage front. In a letter to employees, Vail Resorts President Rob Katz wrote that the company may not be finished adjusting its basic wage structure.

"They're going to pay more if they need to," Romer said. "This isn't a cure-all, but it is a good thing for employees."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

By the numbers

$10: Minimum hourly pay for Vail Resorts employees as of Sept. 26.

$13: Starting pay for a maintenance person at The Charter at Beaver Creek.

$12.60: Starting pay at Avon Walmart.

$11: Starting pay for employees at Wendy’s restaurants in Edwards and Eagle.

Sources: Vail Resorts; June 19 Vail Daily help wanted classifieds.