Employment: Help wanted
Where will the workers come from?
This story is found in the 2019 edition of Milepost.
Just think about all of the people that keep Park City in business. There are drivers and chefs, lifties and maids, snowplow drivers and ski instructors, not to mention the carpenters, plumbers, policemen, teachers and firemen. There are dozens of occupations and thousands of workers that keep this place running. They come from other towns, counties, and from all over the world just to work here.
But every fall it’s a growing struggle to find enough employees to staff businesses. “Help wanted” signs are everywhere as the ski season bears down on Park City and Summit County. Without enough people, existing staff works overtime, guest services suffer and some businesses actually close their doors. A year ago, Café Trio Park City closed, and a staffing shortage was cited as one of the reasons for their decision. The Woodland Biscuit Company cut back their days due to a lack of staff, and the South Summit Aquatic and Fitness Center cut back their hours due to a shortage of lifeguards.
Low wages, getting to work and finding a place to stay complete the trifecta of working here. Many employees live in the Salt Lake Valley, Heber, Utah County and even farther afield, due to the high cost of housing. Some even commute from the Uintah Basin and western Wyoming to work.
Some businesses are raising wages to attract and retain workers, but employees pick and choose, sometimes jumping to a new job for just one more dollar an hour. Others devise incentives to keep employees for the whole season. Deer Valley Resort, for example, awards a year-end bonus of an extra dollar per hour for those who stick it out all winter.
And the problem won’t get better soon. There will be around 3.8% more jobs over the next year, for a total of 1,130, according to Jeff Jones, the Economic Development and Housing Director for Summit County. He says, “Wages are going up, but not even close enough to account for the high cost of living. In the next ten years the workforce will rise by 21.5%. With an unemployment rate a bit over 3.3%, anyone who wants a job can find one. The challenge is to find a place to stay.” Workforce housing built by local governments and businesses helps, but there is no way it satisfies the demand.
The cost, and time spent, just getting to work is increasing too. While transit works for many, there’s still congestion on the roads, morning and evening, as workers come and go, often in vehicles not suited for icy roads and winter blizzards. Paid parking in Park City’s Old Town is making some traditional employees reassess their commutes or turn to public transit, which then increases their commute times.
Recruited overseas, over 1,000 college students from Eastern Europe, South America and elsewhere are also brought in by sponsors on J1 visas issued by the U.S. State Department. These young people flock to the mountains, work hard, improve their English skills, and maybe learn to ski as well. Again, finding a place for them to stay is always a struggle.
And as new, large developments are being built, no one is exactly sure where the employees will come from to staff them. “A new hotel uses 130 people,” Jeff Jones says, “and not at high salaries. How do you find bodies?”
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