Brower: Well-informed weigh in on housing, employment issues
Grand Enterprise Initiative
The response to my column two weeks ago about the crisis Grand County is experiencing in housing and employment has been strong.
In that column I basically said that the high cost of housing and the unavailability of housing, both for rentals and particularly for purchase, are making it nearly impossible for entrepreneurs and workers to live here. Consequently, we have a hiring crisis too.
What I failed to mention last week was that Grand County isn’t alone in facing this problem. The Front Range of Colorado is facing similar issues, as are many “popular” semi-urban and resort-rural areas of the U.S.
I received a particularly astute and informed letter from an informed reader and friend, Paul F. Gerhart, who has a home here in Grand County between Granby and Grand Lake. Paul has lived in the county seasonally for many years so he’s no stranger to our issues.
What he wrote to me was excellent. Here’s what he contributed to this conversation:
“Bravo on your story about the labor/housing markets in Grand County. It has been a problem for a long time but as you note, it has gotten a lot worse lately. FYI, however, it is not unique to Grand. My wife and I have another home in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The town fathers (and mothers) there regularly lament the identical problems of employee and housing shortages. The stories in the local paper could be transposed and no one would notice.”
After commenting on natural disasters that plague both areas, he continues:
“But back to your story. As a labor economist with my degree from that bastion of market economics at the University of Chicago, I am baffled by the failure of the market to solve Grand County’s labor and housing market challenges,” he states. “In the ‘long run’ I have faith that the market will work, but of course, in the long run we are all dead. It is the shorter run where we need more help from the market.
“The question is what is preventing it from working. The knee jerk reaction is that ‘the government’ should either (a) do more to provide housing or recruit workers, or (b) get out of the way with all its regulations and disincentives for entrepreneurs who could solve the problem. Of course your political persuasions will determine which camp you are in.
“Far be it from me to know the right answers, but I am convinced that Grand County has the collective intellectual power to investigate what the barriers or impediments are that the market is facing and then to put together a strategy to overcome them.”
Paul then recommends that I lead an effort to come up with a strategy.
He continues: “Adam Smith once said that the market provides an ‘invisible hand’ to guide the market to efficient outcomes to the benefit of all, but as Professor Arnie Weber (Director of Wage and Price control under President Nixon) used to say, ‘Sometimes the invisible hand is all thumbs’ with the implication that sometimes it needs our help to get problems solved.”
In another comment from Paul, he states the following: “Clearly, the key there is private-public cooperation. We just have to find the way for the invisible hand of the market to work here in Grand County.”
On the private side, the feverish short-term rental market combined with post-COVID home demand from the cities has made things unbalanced. But the general trend of our local government to bury its collective head in the sand when it comes to housing, (with the exception of Winter Park) does little to redress that imbalance.
We are left with a demanding and busy summer ahead. Hold on to your seats.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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