Seems our very busy hive of activity has a major underlying issue that is beginning to threaten the health and ultimate survival of the hive, namely a sufficient number of worker bees to service the ever-increasing numbers of visitor bees.
The tourism and recreation industry creates a large number of jobs in order to service the visitors. Each year our community sees more hotel development, more condominiums built predominantly to house more visitors, more campsites both public and private. Each new hotel or condo structure adds hundreds more visitors when full, which is becoming an ever-increasing number of nights over the course of the year. There is also growth of accommodations in new areas including Airbnbs, owner rentals and even a tent hotel. It seems never ending. This growth in number in available accommodations has also been a part of the reason why Arches National Park is considering a reservation system to help mitigate overcrowding.
This burgeoning number of visitors all require service while in town, in restaurants, stores and guide shops — wherever they have needs — all of which contribute to a healthy demand for employees who are in ever-increasing short supply.
Why? There are extremely limited options for affordable housing.
Other communities have faced this. Many mountain resort towns and counties in Colorado have toughened up codes on development to include provisions for assured and affordable housing.
In Colorado, Pitkin County and the Aspen municipal government started this process in the early 1980s and the municipalities are now responsible for almost 3,000 housing units built and run by a government-supported housing authority — one created to mitigate a major impact of tourism and resort development, namely employee housing. Fifty percent of planned unit developments are mandated in an affordable range. The State of Colorado recognized these local initiatives as great ideas that ultimately became part of state codes on development. It is a great example of leadership from the ground up.
I realize that many programs are addressing the growing needs for working class housing but not nearly enough or fast enough to offset the growth of jobs. Two restaurants in town are now bussing staff from Grand Junction. J1 visa students (overseas students on three-month work visas) fill gaps for many businesses. The Department of Workforce Services had 250 posted job vacancies, with only half that number even looking for work. The help-wanted ads are in many business’s windows. Employers are scrambling to fill the necessary jobs needed in their particular operations. Some are able to have enough staff to deliver the expected service to our visitors, but many others are operating with insufficient numbers of qualified staff.
All of this leads to long waits in restaurants, stores and other tourist enterprises, and poor service from inexperienced, temporary or homeless staff — which degrades our visitor bees' experience. Operating our economy in this manner may in time cause our visitor bees to buzz off somewhere else. Resting on our laurels, though having some of the finest public lands on earth at our doorstep, will not be enough to keep the visitors coming to our world-renowned destination. Hoping the private sector alone will take care of affordable housing goes against the grain of capitalism. That’s why local governments have to help facilitate making this happen.
Unless our community aggressively and imminently addresses these issues, and creates more ways for the worker bees to live in, or even close to the hive, we are slowly starting to undermine our hive’s health and viability. More action and less talk is needed — and our leaders in the community need to lead the charge in order keep our hive a healthy one.
Howard Trenholme is a business owner in Moab and is the chair of the Grand County Travel Council.