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The definition of a ski bum has changed in the last couple years.
   
Friday, November 19, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

It turns out the coronavirus pandemic has not hurt the economy of the Sun Valley area as some had feared.

The local economy performed exceptionally well during the past two years of the pandemic, according to Harry Griffith, director of Sun Valley Economic Development. Business owners have seen anywhere from a 20 percent to 40 percent increase in business. Some have seen a tripling of top-line revenue, and building supply companies have seen unprecedented demand.

In addition, not-for-profits have done well, Griffith told those attending an online community forum hosted by SVED and Visit Sun Valley this week. While organizations lost the opportunity for events, donors have continued to support them. And in-migration has brought a record number of people to  organized programs.

Forward economic indicators look good for advance bookings and continued profit in real estate market, Griffith said.

But the gap between those who have to work to live here and those who don’t has increased, causing tension, he added. Many people say they don’t think they enjoy the quality of life they did a few years ago, what with the increase in housing costs, housing insecurity, traffic and crowds in the stores.

A thousand new out-of-state vehicles were registered in Blaine County during the past year. Of those, 350 were from California. The majority of the rest were from Washington, Oregon and Texas.

Age wise, 637 of the new registrants were over 61 years of age; the next largest age group was between 31 and 41 years of age.

The makeup of valley visitors and others in the valley is more dynamic than ever. It includes travelers coming in for a variety of things ranging from skiing to wellness retreats. The lifestyle economy continues to be the driving force but it’s made up of a large variety of things, not just three or four like it was in the days most people came here for skiing.

In addition, the traditional description of a ski bum is being revisited—now, it’s a developer working on his laptop at night and skiing by day, said Visit Sun Valley Director Scott Fortner.

THE GREAT RESIGNATION

Pre-COVID, the valley had 16,280 workers making up 67 percent of the valley population; now it has 14,800, making up 61 percent.

Having 1,480 job seekers who have fallen away for whatever reason is quite relevant in a community of this size, said Griffith.

Workers are walking for a variety of reasons. One is lack of housing but increasingly competitive wage rates are also prompting some to switch jobs. It’s hard to say no to making $30 an hour carrying bricks if you’ve been making $15 an hour in another job, Griffith said.

Additionally, the community saw 1,700 fewer Visa workers last year, stopped at the border by COVID. In some respects, that had double the impact because Visa workers often work take on additional restaurant and other jobs including their assignments at Sun Valley Resort.

A lot of workers say they’re done with the hospitality business, its low pay, lack of benefits, difficult customers and long hours. Others say they’ve had trouble finding housing or child care.

“I’ve even heard that some younger people have quit because they can’t work a full-time job and play video games,” said Griffith.

Thirty-five percent of those who lost travel industry jobs during the early part of the pandemic have no desire to return, according to Bloomberg. Fifty percent said they would return but not to the same job.

“The travel industry has to make sure they’re offering an enticing opportunity,” said Tom Foley, Inntopia’s senior vice president of analytics.

What would change their mind? Seventy percent say “Nothing.”

“But you have to consider ways you can be a better company to work for. People are looking for something different today—something that’s more fun, that involves more community engagement,” said Foley.

It looks as if it will be easier for Sun Valley Resort to get Visa workers this year, and business owners  should try to recruit them for second jobs, Griffith said. Businesses should also put spouses who have followed their spouse here to work.

They should create internships for students who are taking gap years. And they should take advantage of the silver tsunami, recruiting older people who are moving here who find themselves bored without at least a parttime job or who may be looking for supplemental income.

The hospitality industry could avail itself of alternatives, such as robotic hamburger flippers.

And, if you can’t get talent here, you can get it elsewhere, Griffith said, noting how one business owner grew his business from 50 employees to 250—just three of whom are based here

“Boise has grown at least as fast as we have. It’s 2 and ¾ hours away. How can we get some of those workers to decide they want to work here?” he ventured. “We have to look outside of our immediate area at Boise and Twin Falls to find workers.”

The workforce was headed for a constriction even without the pandemic, Griffith said. The birth rate has declined. The replacement rate is 2.1 births per family and the United States is below that.

“That’s a generational change,” Griffith said. “You can’t just turn the ship around. So, you have to be aware of that going forward.”

 


 

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