Like I Was Saying

What’s a Resort Community to do?

As tourism continues to increase, so will the demand for those elusive 90-day wonders

During a single day last week, upwards of 70 positions were posted on the Kalispell Craigslist jobs page. In total, there were 1,500 offerings. Although many were duplicates and some likely filled, it’s a daunting number.

There were postings for stone mill workers, lodge staff, hemp oil sales, prep cooks, line cooks, woodworkers, painters, flatbed drivers, school bus drivers, retail associates and spa receptionists. And some employers, especially in the service and construction industry, are getting desperate.

We touched on this last week in a story that tallied the record number of positions posted at the Flathead Job Service, which stood at more than 900. Yet our county jobless rate in April remained at 5.6 percent, among the highest in a state with an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent.

So what gives?

As the story mentioned, there are a lot of seasonable jobs here, which skews the number. But there are also people who simply don’t want some jobs, and the Flathead Valley is at a disadvantage competing for those who do. It’s a familiar story among resort communities.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has been dealing with this for years. And while it faces the obvious contributor to workforce shortages – lack of affordable housing and low wages – business owners there have begun to point to a new hurdle: the disappearing “90-day wonder.”

“I scratch my head a little a bit,” Scott Horn, chief of Jackson Hole Mountain resort’s human resources and safety department, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “We don’t see that group as much as we used to.”

Like here, Jackson is located near a national park and visitation peaks in the summer. And like here, Jackson doesn’t have a major university filled with young people who otherwise may stick around for the season. Instead, it relies on college and high school students looking for summer work in a resort town. And there are fewer of them and their habits are changing.

“A lot of individuals don’t want full-time work,” Sadek Darwiche, the general manager of Hotel Jackson, told the News Journal. “Maybe they only want to work three or four days because they’re here for the outdoor experience.”

The seasonal workers are working less and there is more demand for them than supply. In the resort community of Sedona, Arizona, it’s a similar story – one that includes an aging population, increasing tourism and unaffordable housing. The general manager of hotel there told the Sedona Red Rock News last month, “I’ve been running an ad … for three months and I’ve had one person apply.”

In the short-term, the need for more service workers in the Flathead will only increase. Three new hotels recently opened and another is nearly completed. Air travel to the region is on pace to break last year’s record, so is visitation to Glacier National Park. The latest Spring Prairie development on Kalispell’s north end will only add more restaurants and retail stores. The competition for employees will remain fierce.

Whitefish, the most expensive city in the valley, has already selected a consulting firm to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the affordable housing crunch. The firm’s clients include Aspen, Sun Valley and, yes, Jackson Hole. Wages have also begun to edge up for service jobs across region, with some restaurants offering well above minimum wage for employees.

But as tourism continues to increase, so will the demand for those elusive 90-day wonders, wherever they are.