Spoiler: it’s challenges caused by uncertainty and unknowns
Eagle County students head back to school this week. The “back to school” mentality for me is forever tied to the idea of shopping for school supplies, new sneakers, anxiously waiting for the bus, a nervousness indistinguishable from the excitement of who might be in my classes or who my new teachers would be and trying to shift from carefree summer days to the rigor of a schedule. And if we’re being honest, back to school also makes me think about the classic Rodney Dangerfield 80’s comedy movie by the same name.
The back-to-school mentality – except for Mr. Dangerfield’s comedy classic – is fraught with uncertainty and apprehension, layered with equal parts optimism and fear for what awaits us in the year ahead. Much like a new school year where kids often have the same physical but a different operating environment, businesses face new challenges on a regular basis. Kids and businesses face the same challenges due to these unknowns and uncertainties.
Vail Valley Partnership does a variety of research and outreach to understand the needs of our business community. We conduct a quarterly business sentiment study to better understand the confluence of seemingly contradictory reality between the traditional metrics (which have been doing remarkably and historically well for about 18 months running) and the way our community is feeling (increasingly concerned that these trends won’t continue).
Our business community is in much the same uncertain and unknown situation as our students heading back to school as the economy continues to show turbulence. The latest business sentiment study shows that 20% of businesses are pessimistic about Eagle County’s economy over the next year. About the same are optimistic about the economy and a plurality believes that the economy will be slightly better or near a historical average.
Much like a kid moving to a new school, businesses are as challenged as they have been in recent memory, with pessimism about the economy increasing from 8% in Q1 to 20% in Q2 and pessimism about individual business health increasing from 5% in Q1 to 20% in Q2.
Business operators’ opinions on the health of their business vary a bit from their view of the health of the Eagle County economy. When asked for predictions on their own business health, 24% indicate they are optimistic (compared to 16% feeling the same about the economy) and 24% are pessimistic (compared to 20% about the economy as a whole).
While we are special in Eagle County, we’re not unique – attracting and retaining a workforce is among the top challenges for businesses nationwide. We are no different: the largest challenge facing businesses throughout the country is attracting and retaining a qualified workforce. A whopping 64% of respondents to the business sentiment study are pessimistic about their ability to attract and retain the workforce. This generally isn’t due to a lack of focus on workplace culture or training or not wanting to work or other factors; in our case, it is primarily due to a lack of available and attainable housing.
While we cannot control the macroeconomic environment that is leading to some of the pessimism (think inflation), we can absolutely control several of the local factors. We need to be intentional about how we support our community on key issues including housing, transit, mental health, and early childhood.
Let’s hope that our community can continue to show the resilience we’ve shown over the past few years in much the same way kids at the start of the school year settle in quickly to their environment.
Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com