Tahoe may not need to put much effort into advertising the reasons why living here is an attractive idea, but to turn that idea into a sustainable reality can be a different story. A challenge for many local employers is to find and retain quality workers, and to offer what the workforce needs to sustain a life in Tahoe.

Tahoe/Truckee’s high cost of living, large seasonal fluctuations, and ever-shifting economic trends make for a tricky job climate. Some local experts even see the general trend of economic recovery that is happening across the country as equating to a bigger challenge for filling Tahoe’s many hospitality and seasonal jobs.

“We are heading into an employee shortage as we watch unemployment rates continue to go down,” said Sandy Evans Hall, CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “That trend does tend to follow an economic upswing as more people are able to get work in their field of expertise and field of training.”

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With the general employee pool dwindling, this poses difficulties for businesses large and small. Vince Abbatecola, owner of Quality Window Cleaning in Kings Beach, had to work seven days a week through the peak summer months because he could not find qualified employees.

“There is a lack of the traditional young, seasonal worker that I used to see after 16 years of working in the area,” Abbatecola said. “After three bad winters I believe our employee pool is getting smaller as a result of the winters, and the desire to move here may have decreased somewhat for a portion of the workforce.”

Hall also pointed out that recessions bring more employees, while economic upswings create more job opportunities.

“People that would be taking jobs as lift operators, waiters, or cooks are now going back into construction or finding other employment as economic growth creates more opportunities,” Hall said. “But that’s normal and goes along with an economic upswing.”

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows report that they have been able to fill their positions in recent years, but doing so requires recruiting from all over the country.

“As unemployment has been decreasing, the need to reach out beyond the Basin has increased,” said Brittany Clelan, vice president of human resources at Squaw and Alpine. “We advertise in places like Chico and Santa Cruz, as well as in cities in the Midwest and the East Coast.”

A high cost of living can dissuade many potential workers as well. Clelan sees the housing situation as the main obstacle to bringing in workers that Squaw recruits, as the employee’s main challenge is finding affordable housing. Truckee has a cost of living rated as 6.6 percent higher than the California average and 39.8 percent higher than the national average, according to the online cost index site AreaVibes. Conversely, Incline Village is 77.3 percent higher than the Nevada average and 68.9 percent higher than the national average.

With many jobs only available for the bulk of winter and summer seasons, this leaves workers with little or no employment in the shoulder seasons, thus magnifying the living challenges. Stacie Lyans, executive director of the Tahoe City Downtown Association, moved to the area recently from Berkeley and now finds herself with higher rent in Tahoe than in the Bay Area.

“It was incredibly difficult to even find suitable local housing,” Lyans said. “For me, I made sacrifices for a better quality of life in Tahoe, but these factors add up and make it hard for local businesses to attract qualified employees to our community.”

To address these challenges, Hall said businesses that normally depend on out-of-country J-1 visa holders to fill jobs are relying on that type of employee even more these days. After years of not holding a job fair, the NLTRA is also holding one at the request of employers, Hall said.

Additionally, the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce is working on a marketing campaign to promote the area as a feasible place for year-round living and working, and offering ways to help match the needs of businesses with skilled workers.

“We are in the fundraising stages of a place-based marketing campaign with the Chamber of Commerce and partnering with local businesses to promote Truckee not only as a place to play, but as a place to live, work, and play,” said Lynn Saunders, CEO and executive director of the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce. “The campaign has a focus to attract work talent to the area to address the challenges of finding employees.”

She also points out ways that business can help themselves find great employees.

“I think businesses that place a value on getting a good, skilled worker and paying them accordingly makes it easier to fill that position and keep that person in place,” Saunders said. “Anytime a business invests in their employee with training and growth opportunities, they’re more likely to be sought out by potential employees.”

Saunders believes the current issues facing employers are more representative of the seasonal nature of Tahoe, something that has always been a factor, but she believes the regional draw of living at Lake Tahoe will continue to attract a workforce.

“I think it’s always been a bit of a challenge up here; it’s a transitional sort of community, being a resort town,” Saunders said. “It does have a high cost of living but it does have a huge quality of life.”

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  • Dave Zook

    Dave Zook has been aiming to turn interests in outdoor activities like snowboarding and surfing into a professional endeavor for quite some time. He is elated to be writing and editing for Moonshine Ink and still have time to explore the ample offerings of the Sierra.

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