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Resort plans to build new worker housing

Turnover projections, real estate conditions factor in move to put up buildings behind Kmart.
By Benjamin Graham, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
January 16, 2013

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort plans to construct five employee housing buildings on an empty lot behind Kmart.

The development would provide 180 beds for resort employees, many of them potentially foreign workers.

“We want to be prepared,” said Scott Horn, chief administrative officer at the resort.

The company housing complex would be the first built off-site by the resort in years.

Since the recession hit in 2008, the resort has seen a significant reduction in the number of international employees.

During the same time period, the number of employees staying for more than one winter has increased.

Both trends have resulted in less dependency on employee housing. But if that changes, additional housing would be necessary again.

Resort employees who stay for more than a winter tend to have housing figured out, Horn said. Over the last few years, about 80 percent of  employees returned. In 2008, that return rate was down to 40 percent.

On the other hand, foreign workers typically need the most help when finding a place to stay. The resort had about 190 foreign employees during the 2007-08 season. This year, Horn said, there is just one.

Employee housing “hasn’t really been much of an issue since the Great Recession of 2008,” Horn said. “The marketplace has taken care of the needs.”

But if the job market stabilizes, seasonal workers might look for other full-time jobs.

“We think as the economy improves, that we’re going to get back to a 40 percent return rate,” Horn said. “We’d be looking to beef up our recruiting.”

That often means searching for workers in places like South Africa and Australia, although the resort looks to hire domestically first, he said.

The proposed location is ideal for transplants to the valley because of nearby grocery stores and bus stops, which would be easy to reach on foot.

Horn said the ski resort wanted to take advantage of the still-recovering real estate market.

“The one thing we know right now is that housing costs are about as cheap as they can be,” he said. “If we’re going to build something, now might be the appropriate time.”

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort must provide employee housing for 159 people, according to county rules. The company has surpassed that requirement, making housing available for 172 workers, said Susan Johnson, principal planner at the county’s planning department. The new development would more than double the current total.

Construction could begin as early as this summer.

If there aren’t enough resort workers to fill up the new space, other businesses could lease the units for their employees, according to documents filed with the town’s planning department.

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