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Grand County aims to address workforce challenges with website, new program in schools

A help wanted sign sits in the window of the El Pacifico X-Press in Fraser in this newspaper file photo. Many new jobs in Grand County aren’t getting filled because employers can’t fill them.
Sky-Hi News file photo

Grand County’s economic trends show a positive picture on the surface, but despite low unemployment and high median incomes, the workforce still faces hurdles.

At an economic development forum on Feb. 24, Grand County Economic Development presented a few projects it’s working on to help address some of the challenges, which include recruiting workers, finding them housing and retaining them.

One of the county’s largest workforce issues is the high cost of living. In Grand County, the wages paid by a the majority of available jobs simply don’t allow the workers to live here.

DiAnn Butler, executive director of Grand County Economic Development, said the office hopes to utilize the website, http://www.WorkInGrand.com, to better connect employees with housing.

“We hear a lot that part of the challenge is (businesses) find an employee, and if they are relocating, they can’t because they can’t find housing, so you have to talk to these things in unison with each other,” Butler said. 

The website launched almost a year ago as an answer to businesses needing to recruit workers to Grand County, and WorkInGrand.com has been relatively successful in doing so, new data shows. 

Hrishue Mahalaha, who partnered with Grand County Economic Development to create WorkInGrand.com, said that 176 employers have posted over 430 jobs accessed by over 12,000 unique users since the launch. 

“The biggest validation we’ve found is we were speaking to some of our anchor employers a few weeks ago … and Winter Park Resort identified that this has been one of their first seasons where they’ve seen a lot of their critical positions fill up,” Mahalaha said. “After years of seeing a delta of unstaffed positions, we’re starting to see — and (Winter Park) isn’t the only employer reporting this — some flow of candidates.”

The number of jobs in Grand County has increased 10% from 2014 to 2019, according to the county’s economy review done by the Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium, and almost 700 new jobs are expected by 2024. 

However, the review also notes that roughly 60% of Grand County’s workers don’t live in the county and commute. In an effort to help bridge that gap, Grand County Economic Development is partnering with the county housing authority to add details on available housing resources to the WorkInGrand.com site.

“The big obstacle for people when they come into our county is there are a lot of resources, even for housing, but people don’t understand what they qualify for,” said Sheena Darland, operations manager of the county housing authority. “(We can) kind of help channel them through the process.”

Aside from WorkInGrand.com, Grand County hopes to address some workforce needs through the schools. The Homegrown Talent Initiative has started up in both East and West Grand school districts to help students figure out what they want to do and be better prepared to enter the workforce.

According to West Grand Superintendent Darrin Peppard, the program helps students through exposure and exploration, ultimately leading to experience in the workforce. In turn, the hope is these students will provide the motivated and educated workforce needed by local businesses.

“We’ve been working for the last three years on how to develop a work-based program here within Grand County with some of the remote challenges that we have that could really be meaningful and have a long-term impact, not only for the kids, but for the economy of Grand County,” Peppard said. “It’s really looking at career exposure very early down into the middle schools, and then giving (the students) meaningful work-based program and relevant work opportunities.”

So far student groups have visited with the owners of Two Pines Supply and Mountain Parks Electric in Granby, Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Green Spaces CoWorking and The Perk in Winter Park to explore what work gets done at each business. The hope is to involve more businesses and trades to the program.

A career fair for the Homegrown Talent Initiative will be hosted on April 29 at East Grand School District offices. Interested businesses can reach out to Middle Park High School Principal Cindy Rimmer to sign up at cindy.rimmer@egsd.org.


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