Summit County’s unemployment rate drops to 2.1%; Entrepreneurs who do not have problems with recruitment exchange ideas about operations
Summit county unemployment numbers continue to fall.
In February, the county’s unemployment rate was 2.9%. According to an April report from the Colorado Department of Labor and EmploymentSummit County’s rate is now 2.1%, placing it in second place with 12 other counties whose rates are among the lowest in the state. Other counties with lower rates around Summit include Douglas (2.3%), Jackson (2%), and Elbert (2.3%).
According to the department’s April report, the state’s unemployment rate is 3.6%.
Usually, low unemployment rates are associated with employment difficulties. This is not a new challenge for Summit County companies. In the past year or so, many owners say they have struggled to fill the vacant positions. Some have even reduced or changed services to deal with the challenges while others have tried to boost the wages and benefits of their employees.
But two local business owners sing a different tune. Ariel Johnston and Laurie Mavis say they are not struggling with employment as they head into what is expected to be a particularly busy summer tourist season.
Johnston co-owns Summit County stores in Colorado, Frisco Trading Post, and Copper Mountain Mercantile. It is also co-owner of True Blue Coffee & Gelato. It takes about 20 positions to keep all four companies running, Johnston said. All of these positions have been filled, with the exception of two new positions at True Blue. The cafe just got a liquor license, so Johnston has now said it’s looking for individuals who are at least 21 years old.
Until then, she said she was not worried about filling these positions.
“For us, we did a pretty good job surviving the entire crew,” Johnston said. “When we start going below our employee numbers, basically what we do is one of the owners — me or my sister or my father — will come in and fill that shift until we find the right person. I think that helped try to get the right people.”
Maphies relied on the same backup options as Johnston. Mavis, who co-owns Marigolds Farmhouse Funk & Junk in Breckenridge with her sister and daughter, said the three owners would choose additional shifts to make sure the store continues to operate if they are short of staff.
The store usually relies on seven jobs to keep it running, all of which are currently full. Historically, Mavis said, the store has had no difficulty keeping these positions vacant.
“I think it’s a fun store, and we have a lot of loyal customers,” Mavis said of Marigold’s store. “We have a lot of people who want to spend more time there. Honestly, that’s exactly what I think. We offer a competitive wage, we offer an employee discount, and so I think that attracts a lot of our customers who really like our store and want to be with us.”
Other factors play a role, too: Last year, Johnston said, owners decided to invest in a two-bedroom unit so they could provide staff housing for some of their employees.
She also referred to The Pad, a new hybrid lodge in Silverthorne that gives individuals a taste of life in Summit County before they decide to move entirely into the community. She said she had hired several people who had resided at The Pad before and who had used it to relocate to Summit County after the move.
This doesn’t mean other companies aren’t struggling to hire, said Blair McGarry, CEO of Summit Chamber of Commerce.
“People have left the community – at least 25% during the pandemic – so even though the unemployment rate has gone down, that doesn’t mean that employment has improved,” McGarry said in an email. “When unemployment rates are low, but there are still a number of vacancies, it means that the skills do not match the job opportunities.”
This could very well be, especially as more functionality is added to the market. According to an April report, the private industry sectors with significant job gains that month included the state’s leisure and hospitality sector, which saw an increase of 6,400 positions across the state. About 3,200 jobs have been added to the trade, transportation and utilities industry. About 1,900 jobs have been added to the construction industry.
As more jobs are added to the market and competition remains fierce to attract talent, it will be up to companies to get the orders and stand out from the crowd.
“I think places that are innovative and flexible with their employees do a good job and are able to attract and retain employees,” McGarry said in the email.