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Economy & Employment


Rebecca Travers lives in Casper, Wyo. Until late last year, the 42-year-old had been working at a non-profit that helps volunteer organizations across the state.

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

The pandemic took a heavy toll on Aspen’s tourism industry during the December holidays, usually the airport’s busiest time of year. In the two-week period around Christmas, the number of arriving passengers at Aspen-Pitkin County airport was down 53% from the year before. 

Ski Resorts Work to Stay Open as COVID Cases Snowball

Dec 24, 2020
Eleanor Bennett / Aspen Public Radio

The day after Thanksgiving, Dr. Jana Eller and Dr. Shiraz Naqvi were seated beside an outdoor fire pit at the base of Telluride Ski Resort, taking a short break from skiing.

The two physicians from Houston had driven more than 18 hours to get here for the holiday weekend, and they were staying (and preparing meals) in a rented home. They traveled with another couple and their kids, colleagues they’ve been “bubbling” with in Houston.

Panic buying has slowed down considerably since this spring, but one thing still lingering is higher demand for meat that's easier for people to cook themselves.


Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

J-1 visas, which normally bring more than 800 seasonal workers to the Roaring Fork Valley each year, are still on hold following an executive order from President Donald Trump in June. Some local businesses were holding out hope that J-1 workers could come at the beginning of the new year, as the order was originally set to expire at the end of December.

States only have a few weeks left to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, which is spurring lawmakers around the Mountain West to pass major aid deals now.


Alex Hager

The ski mountains are open and Christmas is less than a month away. In Aspen, many businesses reliant on tourists and the dollars they bring during the snowier months will face a bevy of new challenges in a mid-pandemic winter.

The sugar beet harvest is underway across the Mountain West.

It’s a big industry that depends on accurate weather forecasts and a reliable workforce – both impacted by COVID-19. 

Courtesy of Roger Campos

This winter in Aspen will look a lot less international. Every year, more than 800 seasonal workers come to the Roaring Fork Valley as part of the J-1 visa program. After the Trump administration put a hold on the cultural exchange program in June, local businesses are scrambling to hire enough people for peak season, and hopeful workers are left stuck abroad.

Courtesy of Anto Sweetapple

The scheduled start of the Colorado ski season is only about three months away – and with snow falling on the tops of nearby peaks just this week, it’s hard not to wonder what a winter on the slopes is going to look like during a pandemic. 

Courtesy of Charlotte Hanks / Defiance Rafting Company

Everyone within sight of Glenwood Canyon on Monday knew there was trouble brewing. A tremendous plume of smoke shooting up into the midday sky was not a good sign during a historically hot and dry summer.

President Donald Trump says an executive order he signed on Saturday funds a $400 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits. But it likely won't be as helpful as it seems.


Elise Dantzler has been working in restaurants since she was 15. But, like many in her industry, she was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That forced the 25-year-old Coloradan to rethink her living situation.

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Pitkin County’s COVID Emergency Relief Fund has distributed $2.28 million in assistance since the pandemic took hold in March. At the end of June, the program was suspended. Officials said it was designed as a short-term emergency program while other aid organizations built capacity for longer-term help. 

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

For a ski rental shop at the base of Aspen Mountain, winter means big business when the resort opens. But right now, it’s pretty hard to say exactly what challenges will come with a mid-pandemic ski season.

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

When ski lifts in Aspen and Snowmass stopped spinning in March, so did the area’s economy. Pitkin County businesses went into an early offseason and have experienced a staggered reopening under new restrictions.

Kris Mattera / Basalt Chamber of Commerce

The Basalt Chamber of Commerce recently opened Hack & Grind, a coworking space for small businesses needing an office, or remote workers looking for a place to work outside of their home.  

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

The Trump administration extended a freeze on green cards and put a hold on a variety of temporary work visas this week, blocking them until at least January. Included in the hold are J-1 visas, temporary work permits that bring hundreds of seasonal employees to the Roaring Fork Valley every year.

Courtesy Photo / City of Glenwood Springs

Tourist attractions in Glenwood Springs were given the stamp of approval by the state to open Monday, June 8, including Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs

via City of Aspen

The Aspen Saturday Market is slated to come back as early as June 20, with new rules and restrictions. City officials are targeting the first Saturday after Pitkin County increases the limit on gatherings from 10 to 50 people, which they anticipate to be June 20.

The pandemic has beef markets on a roller coaster, and Shohone, Idaho's Amie Taber is among the ranchers along for the ride.

 


Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Tourism is returning to Pitkin County, and short-term lodging, like hotels and condos, can operate at 50% capacity each day. In a recent Board of Health meeting, Snowmass Village Mayor and board chair Markey Butler said that isn’t the best fit for her town. She spoke with reporter Alex Hager about why she's pushing for a different plan.

Eleanor Bennett / Aspen Public Radio

Longtime local resident Maria works in housekeeping and lives in a shared mobile home in El Jebel. She said she’s worried about paying her $300-a-month rent this summer. (We’re not using her full name because she’s undocumented.)

Courtesy Photo

Starting a business can be a gamble, and the stakes are even higher during a pandemic. Owners of two new businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley are taking the leap at a time when unemployment is soaring and social distancing measures are hurting industries all across Colorado.

Elise Thatcher / Aspen Public Radio

Basalt Town Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday launching the Basalt Bucks program. In an attempt to help businesses ordered to shut down by Gov. Jared Polis when the pandemic made its way to Colorado, all addresses within the town limits will receive a $20 voucher to use at Basalt restaurants or retail stores.

Courtesy of Tracy Doherty

When the pandemic took hold, Tracy Doherty kept going to work as a pediatric nurse at Valley View Hospital. Her line of work usually comes with some stability, so she was surprised when she was laid off earlier this month. 

 “Being a nurse you kind of never expect to lose your job,” Doherty said. “I knew they were going to be cutting staff, but I didn't think it would be nursing staff.”

This story was powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.

If you want a hearty breakfast in the small town of Thompson Falls, Montana, Minnie's Montana Cafe has you covered.

 


Everyone knows that living in the Rockies can get expensive. Headwaters Economics wanted to know why. The non-profit published new research this week that examines what causes housing to become so expensive in places where outdoor recreation is a main economic driver.

via City of Aspen

The City of Aspen is asking for input on a plan that would allow local businesses to operate on sidewalks and streets in the downtown core. In a press release, the city said doing so would “increase physical space to facilitate social interaction, community connection and commercial activity while adhering to Pitkin County Health Order gathering guidelines.”

The grim task awaiting lawmakers - balancing a budget devastated by the coronavirus outbreak - is even more grim on Tuesday after they learned they'll have to cut significantly more than originally thought.

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