Editorial: There are no easy fixes to labor shortage in Park City
It’s hard to find good help these days.
That’s a refrain that certainly rings true to Park City businesses as they continue to grapple with a worker shortage caused by a number of factors and exacerbated by Utah’s low unemployment rate. Many have increased wages to lure more people from the Salt Lake Valley, but even that strategy has become less fruitful as the availability of decent-paying jobs in the Wasatch Front has grown.
Business owners will tell you the situation is frustrating now as we enter the fall shoulder season. But it’s nearly certain to get worse in a few months, when the tourism industry revs up for another busy winter. It wouldn’t be surprising if many businesses, including the ski resorts, are left scrambling to hire enough employees to get by in what is the most important stretch of the year for the local economy.
Given the macroeconomic trends at play, there are no easy fixes. Experts predict low unemployment in Utah to continue into 2019, meaning businesses, as they’ve done in the past, will have to get creative to entice workers, such as offering end-of-season bonuses for those who stick it out through the winter. But the severity of the problem employers are facing highlights the importance of two other related issues: the traffic congestion that clogs Park City’s two main entryways and the lack of workforce housing in Summit County.
Both make what is already a difficult job market for employers much worse. Easing the traffic woes on S.R.s 224 and 248 would make working in Summit County much more viable for folks commuting from Wasatch County and the Salt Lake Valley. Meanwhile, ensuring a larger percentage of our workforce can afford to live in Park City would decrease the road congestion and, more importantly, eliminate the need to rely on so many workers from out of the area.
Neither dilemma will be solved by the time the employee crunch hits businesses this winter. But Parkites and employers should be encouraged that elected leaders are taking them seriously. After years of stressing affordable housing, Park City, for example, upped the ante by setting an ambitious goal of building 800 additional deed-restricted units by 2026. City leaders so far have made impressive progress, completing multiple workforce housing projects and beginning work on others.
At the same time, city and county officials are working with the Utah Department of Transportation to find long-term solutions for the entry corridors. A bus rapid transit system on S.R. 224 that would place dedicated bus lanes on both sides of the road is one concept that has drawn support.
The headway officials have made on both problems offers a reason for long-term optimism. Businesses grappling with the current hiring crunch and anticipating a difficult winter, though, would be forgiven for being skeptical about the notion that help is on the way.