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Workforce, housing hinders growth

Collin Smith

— Yampa Valley is reportedly going through large growth, according to local government, but there are not enough workers and not enough places for new workers to live.

Craig Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Christie Currie described the two-pronged problem.

“Workforce and housing,” she said. “It’s a chicken and egg scenario. What’s going to break the dam is a developer coming and building something like a sub-division so that people have a place to live when they come here to work.”

Currie’s meetings with Chamber members illustrate the problem.

“Almost every member I talk to has trouble hiring qualified workers. Because there isn’t any kind of job competition, businesses are looking for anybody. Qualifications amount to someone showing up and passing a drug test.”

John Doane, owner of Flint Personnel Services, sees the boom and the shortage.

“We’ve got more jobs than people,” he said. “We have people coming in here just because they heard there were jobs. The word is out.

“Right now, the housing shortage is such that oil workers are paying $100 a night at the Holiday Inn,” he said. “It will be really interesting to see what happens in October and November when hunting season starts and they have to go someplace else.”

Diane Calsow, office manager for Price Mine Service, a job placement business, has problems filling her open job postings every year.

“It’s always bad in the summer when there are a lot of jobs available,” she said. “There’s just not enough people. We recruit all over the US, but getting people to relocate is hard. There’s not enough housing. It’s hard to get someone to relocate their family and take a chance on a job.”

Calsow says it is almost impossible to find skilled labor, such as welders, electricians and heavy equipment operators. Also, it is difficult to keep workers in the same job for a long period of time.

“Because of the lack of people in the area, they can choose where they want to work,” she said. “They might take one closer to home, or a short-term job with no benefits that pays a little more than a long-term job with benefits.”

Price Mine Service staffs for Twentymile Coal. The majority of people it hires go to work as underground miners.

“We’re lucky enough we pay a pretty good wage,” Calsow said. “I don’t know how the mechanics even find people.”

Larry Payne, plant manager for Craig Electric Motor and Machine, has many of the same problems Calsow describes.

“There are essentially no experienced people in the area,” he said. “Indeed, we have difficulty finding inexperienced people with the right work ethic, or ones that will stay around long enough.”

Recruiting mechanics from other areas is also difficult for Payne.

“Bringing in experienced motor mechanics and motor winders is just not done,” he said. “It’s hard to bring people to the area. Part of that is housing.”

At Thursday’s meeting among Economic Development Partnership, the Chamber and Moffat County Tourism Association, representatives discussed the possibility of “man camps” for construction workers.

Man camps are essentially a cluster of temporary housing that can be set up cheaply and quickly.

County Commissioner Saed Tayyara said there are no plans for such camps on the horizon.

“I don’t see the demand for that,” Tayyara said. “We’re not going to compete with free enterprise. There are motels in the area accommodating people that work in Meeker and live here. I don’t know if our economy could handle that right now.”

Jim Van Someren, corporate communications manager for Tri-State, which is partial owner and operator for Craig Power Plant, said his company has not had problems with skilled or unskilled labor shortages.

Tri-State posts all job openings on their Web site, and also works with Colorado Northwest Community College to train students.

Collin Smith can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or cesmith@craigdailypress.com


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