Job diversity, affordable housing top economic needs

April 21, 2015

This is an excerpt from an article in the Estes Park Trail Gazette.

Some of the information collected recently by an economic development strategy and research consulting firm confirmed what many have long suspected.

That is, many residents in the Estes Valley think economic development is important and needed. But, at the same time, many are unclear about what economic development is.

According to information presented Monday night by Avalanche Consulting representatives, 81 percent of the respondents to a community survey said they viewed economic development “as a medium or high priority in the Estes Valley,” said Avalanche Consulting Project Manager Tony DeLisi.

“They said there is a need for something to occur,” DeLisi told a roomful of interested residents at the Estes Park Town Hall. “But, 40 percent of the respondents also said they were uncertain about what economic development means.”

Avalanche Consulting has been retained by the Town of Estes Park and the Estes Park Economic Development Corporation to come up with an Estes Valley Economic Development Strategy. It involves a market assessment which includes an evaluation of the Estes Valley economy and a community survey.

DeLisi went on to tell the audience that, when asked to grade economic development in the Estes Valley, respondents gave the area at C+ for economic performance.

DeLisi said there were good reasons why the score was so low. He cited:

  • The destination economy has stalled and needs job diversity.
  • Workers can’t find affordable housing.
  • The population is getting older and is temporary.

DeLisi continued to reveal information collected from the Austin, TX-based firm’s market assessment.

He pointed out that the destination population of the Estes Valley is problematic. It is about 10,500 in February but more than doubles to 25,725 in July.

He pointed out how the economy has stalled. He said there was only 3 percent growth between 2011 and 2013.

“While you had three percent growth, many ski towns grew in double digits (12 percent) during the same time,” DeLisi said.

Digging deeper into the numbers, DeLisi pointed out that 31 percent of the workforce in the Estes Valley worked in retail, accommodations, or arts and entertainment. The national average, he pointed out, is 21 percent.

A lack of affordable housing is also hurting the valley’s economy.

“Limited housing options restrict who can live in the Estes Valley,” DeLisi said. “Home values here are above county, state and national values. And, you have few houses available and rents are higher here, too.

“All of this has a significant effect on workers.”

DeLisi said the median income for retail workers in the valley is $18,000. That salary would qualify a homebuyer for a home valued at $90,000 – something not available in the valley.

To make matters worse, DeLisi said their work revealed that 35 percent of the homes in the valley are for seasonal, recreation and occasional use.

“Families are being priced out,” he said.

As a result, he added that half of the valley’s employed residents work outside the valley.

Summarizing the information, DeLisi said the “critical needs” for the valley include: a year-round economy, diversity and resiliency, affordable housing, and creating jobs for younger families.

Read the full article in the Estes Park Trail Gazette.