Whistler residents and businesses can have a cautiously-optimistic outlook going into the upcoming winter season as the local economy is expected to rebound slightly from last year’s lowest workforce numbers the resort has seen in over a decade .
The resort’s full-time workforce is expected to increase two per cent this winter, with medium-sized businesses comprising the bulk of that growth, according to the Whistler Housing Authority’s (WHA) annual employment and housing assessment.
The WHA’s Employer Housing Needs Assessment, provided to council Tuesday (Sept. 18), was conducted between July and August.
It surveyed 190 businesses, representing approximately 70 per cent of 2011-12’s winter workforce.
“We’re way out in front of other resort communities, having the data that we have on the numbers of employees who live in our town,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
There were roughly 12,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions during 2011-12’s winter season, calculated by tallying the number of full-time employees and the FTE positions created by part-time workers.
Projections for this winter season showed promising trends, with medium-sized businesses, those with six to 19 employees, poised to grow the most in 2012-13, with a 1.5 per cent increase in staff from last year.
By comparison, smaller businesses with five or less employees are expecting a 0.1 per cent growth in staff, with large employers projecting a 0.4 per cent hike.
Approximately 82 per cent of FTE employees resided within Whistler during the 2010-11 season, exceeding the WHA’s goal of housing 75 per cent of its workforce locally.
“By having that workforce living locally, it just creates that additional vibrancy,” said Marla Zucht, the WHA’s general manager. “They have that sense of ownership or sense of attachment by living here as opposed to getting in their car to drive at the end of their workday to a neigbouring community.”
Fifteen per cent of local businesses provided housing for their staff, representing a slight decrease from the previous two years.
“We’re seeing that slight decrease in that number of businesses providing staff housing because the availability of housing for staff, which would be provided through our program, is increasing,” said Zucht.
The report shows “the impact of housing, and the fact that we have so much resident restricted housing these days,” said Wilhelm-Morden.
Resident restricted units like the Olympic Legacy housing in Cheakamus Crossing and those in the Rainbow development offer affordable housing for full-time Whistler residents at prices below market rates.
The WHA brought on about 500 new resident restricted units for Whistlerites in the past two years alone, according to Zucht.
Large businesses employing 20 or more employees were more likely to provide housing for their staff, consistent with the WHA’s past findings.
Whistler’s seasonal workforce was made up of 5,200 FTE employees, 97 per cent of whom lived within municipal boundaries, a slight increase from 2010-11 totals.
A small number of employers, five per cent of respondents, reported an inability to fill their staffing needs, a two point drop from last year, and significantly less than the 2007-08 high of 30 per cent.
Only 10 respondents provided reasons explaining their staffing shortages, with answers ranging from the transient nature of Whistler’s workforce, to the community’s high cost of living, while three employers attributed their staffing woes to the unavailability of housing.
The report stressed that this last point should be viewed with caution, considering the small number of responses for the question.
Overall, the WHA’s fifteenth annual housing report paints an optimistic picture for Whistler, compared to the staffing and housing woes the community experienced during the global economic crisis nearly five years ago.
“We get asked for the Whistler Housing Authority to speak about Whistler’s resident and employee housing program all the time to other communities, and I think people really recognize Whistler having done a great job by providing opportunities for the workforce to live locally,” said Zucht.