Brower: The excruciating employee and housing crunch in Grand
Grand Enterprise Initiative
It’s beginning to look like Grand County’s economy is going to open up from many of the COVID restrictions that have been in place for the last year.
But there are two restrictions to our economy that government and the market have been helpless to resolve: lack of employees and lack of affordable housing.
And from what I hear from many businesses out there, these two restrictions to our economy are only getting worse, not better. By that I mean there are fewer people to hire and hardly any available affordable places for any new hires to live.
While this problem has been a factor in Grand County for many years, I get the strong feeling that it’s going to be extremely difficult this coming year as Grand County and Colorado start to emerge from the COVID shutdowns and limitations.
Evidence of this current problem that’s getting worse can be found in the latest release of employment data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The latest figures show that Grand County’s unemployment rate is continuing to drop and for the month of March was at 5.3 percent. That may not seem so bad, but considering the number of people who aren’t participating in the workforce at all (those who choose not to work), that puts the unemployment rate in the real world at a much lower level.
You’d think that would be good news to have a real unemployment rate that is low. And, yes, it is good news, but it points to the real problem we are having. As the headline in the Colorado Workforce Center states: the “labor shortage persists.”
Which means we might have experienced a drop in job offerings and work during about three months of the early pandemic, but since then the economy has turned around in a big way. Not only has the COVID pandemic not been as bad as was predicted in the jobs realm, the economy and consumer demand is roaring back. And it’s likely to be a very busy summer up here in Grand County.
And yet, I am hearing the blues from employees and employers.
This is just anecdotal, but this reflects what is happening out there. One client moved here and was ready to open and operate a construction services business for which there is demand. There’s work. But he got sick of living in a hotel room and then in a B and B with his wife and newborn. He’s gone. He moved back to Florida where he says he can at least find an affordable apartment.
Or there’s the aspiring main street retailer who was looking at Granby and Grand Lake for a new venture. It could have worked except for the fact that he and his wife couldn’t find a place to live. And they really struggled to find an acceptable location for the business at a rent that was workable. He explored both buying and renting but then just gave up. They moved back to the Midwest, crestfallen.
Then we have the many businesses up here who simply are unable to hire people. Maybe this is partly because former employees are still living on extended unemployment benefits from the COVID relief bills, but the real problem is that there just aren’t that many people who are here to work. As proof of this just look at this newspaper’s help wanted section. It’s been a long, long time since there were that many paid ads for job openings.
And yes, we are experiencing a real estate and construction boom right now. But all that means is that the cost of housing and commercial property is just getting higher and more out of reach.
I’m just hoping that a little bit of normalcy will return as COVID wanes and the fire impacts get managed. Otherwise we will see a boom in demand that we simply won’t be able to handle in a steady and predictable way.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at email@example.com.
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