Last week, the Grand County Economic Development department held a roundtable discussion and sneak peek at a new website made possible by funds received from Freeport McMoran and Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Rural Economic Development initiative (REDI).
Diane Butler, Grand County Economic Development Coordinator, and a team of community stakeholders have worked nearly two years on the workforce and housing challenges in Grand County. The team engaged a consultant to help facilitate and develop an integrated workforce and housing platform for attracting and retaining a sustainable workforce. One of the solutions identified was “low hanging fruit” according to Butler, create a website portal to connect our potential employees and employers in a way that can help bridge a communicative gap in life and work, a web-portal that can serve as a central location for available job positions, a shared workforce program, housing needs, volunteer opportunities, child care options, higher education opportunities and much more. Butler said, ”This process has been enlightening. The collaborative effort has been magical at times.”
The new website is still under development but was debuted last week at the workforce and housing roundtable event held at the Headwaters Center in Winter Park. The event highlighted key components of the portal and furthered the discussion with community members on the short-term needs and visions for the future. Butler said, “The majority of the workforce comes for the lifestyle, this will make it possible for prospects to engage in jobs, housing, the community and much more.”
The website itself will allow employers to post jobs and job seekers to post profiles and skill sets. The site is very intuitive and simple. Hrishue Mahalaha, of Innovation Economy Partners has served as the mediator and facilitator for the project for nearly two years, saying, “It is important to adapt to ways and needs of the workforce of today and have a vision and understanding of the workforce of tomorrow”, adding the project is still in the developmental phase. We are always open to ideas and want to hear from the community. “We don’t want this to just be another website that becomes dusty over time. It is important to continually engage with the site and its users.”
Jason Bryan, Human Resources Director for Middle Park Health, said, “This site is free to use and will be a great resource for both the employer and prospective employees.” Jason took me on the quick tour and the site is much like an Indeed.com website, with easy access and navigation. Employers can upload job postings with descriptions, pay and experience level required. The applicant section will allow prospects to post resumes, job experience and skills offered. “The navigation is simple, intuitive and very user friendly. It will be a great tool for the community, especially small businesses that don’t have a budget to market their jobs.”
Case Kennedy, HR Director for Winter Park Resort, conveyed some of the struggles for hiring employees at the Resort. “We lose prospects and staff because housing is so hard to find. We provide as much housing as possible but, the struggle is real.”
One of the additional strengths of the new site, “Grand County Jobs”, a temporary name given to the project, will allow property owners and management groups to post rental listings covering both long term and short term leases. Butler said the site is not to be used for short term rentals for vacationers. On the flipside, the site will allow people to post their roomate and pet needs, connecting both sides of the housing puzzle. Butler said, “the goal is to have one place for everything” and get people off the Grand County Garage Sale site. “One thing to remember is we want this to be much more than a job site, we want this to be a center for our community. A site that really creates a vibe and pulse”
Mahalaha said, “We have a ways to go but would like to launch the site in the next couple of months. We really want to start engaging the workforce and housing needs as soon as possible. This tool will be a bridge to connect our communities.”
Our Colorado mountain resort communities all face similar employment and housing needs. This new portal may be a start to connecting the dots. Christina Oxley of the Colorado Workforce Center, said, “the recession has taught companies to run lean but are struggling to staff to the level needed.” According to Oxley, it is an employees market and they are job hopping to find the right fit. Currently, the Colorado unemployment rate is just over 3.0%. There are more jobs than prospects and it is important to make it easy for prospects to find you. “This website is a way to easily connect employees and employers in a meaningful way.” Adding the housing component to this site is brilliant.
At Tuesday’s BOCC meeting, Economic Development Director, Diane Butler updated the commissioners on the workforce and housing roundtable. Butler said they had about 60 participants and received great feedback on the event. “Everybody’s passionate about this”, said Butler.
Butler told the BOCC they had put out an RFP for website design of the new portal and selected Innovation Economy Partners and Deeya Solutions. The proposal came in at $30,000, and, using $25,000 in funds received from Freeport McMoran and DOLA REDI, that left a balance of $5,000. Butler told the commissioners there was still an excess in her 2018 budget of $8,000 and asked if they would be agreeable to her using $5,000 to get to the $30,000 needed to enter into the contract.
Commissioner Manguso asked how much it will cost year over year. Butler replied that there are many employers willing to put money into the portal development, but that it would always be a partnership with the county. At this point, the costs are still not known and they’ll know more once it is active.
Commissioner Linke stated that he liked the idea of a one-stop shop. “The goal is to match and retain employees in the community. We’re spending $5,000 for something that would cost us $25,000 and I support it”.
Butler added that the portal will have links to sites, like the Colorado Workforce website, but will also do a lot more partnering prospective employees with housing, which is usually the final decision on whether someone’s going to relocate. It will also help with retention. “Everytime someone exits our county and we had an option, that’s a loss.”
Commissioner Cimino asked how many anchor employers were involved and Butler stated that 12 were regularly attending the meetings. “These employers manned the booths at the roundtable – they’re driving the bus because they want it”, said Butler. Local employers Middle Park Health, Snow Mountain Ranch, Winter Park Resort and Granby Ranch are all engaged. Grand Foundation is also helping with their grant assistance program which fits into the housing section. The event had been promoted for both employers and employees to gather their input. Future plans include a survey to “flush out” what the community wants.
Because Grand County Economic Development had already gone through the RFP process, and, the expense was less than $50,000, Assistant County Manager, Ed Moyer, told the commissioners that Butler was okay to go ahead with the website design and marketing selection.