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Our View: Time for homegrown investments in workforce

People move to a new place for one reason, dig in and stay for another, and leave for something else entirely. It’s painfully clear why our workforce leaves. The Durango-area is unaffordable with the largest obstacle finding - and keeping - a decent place to live. We each have a personal limit, a moment when we take an inventory of our life, examine what we give and what we gain, then determine whether it’s an acceptable exchange. When is making a life here no longer viable? If often comes down to a telling moment. Sometimes, it’s a small one.

The New York Times writer Malcolm Gladwell considers this concept in his 2000 book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.” Gladwell writes the tipping point is that moment when a small change tips the balance of a system and brings about a large change. The clouds clear, the path is evident and we take that step toward our dreams.

Creating attainable housing is a Herculean effort. Smart people in local government and the private sector are putting their heads together on this. Still, housing feels like a castle in the sky. Today, we’re turning our focus toward actions that invest in workers. A few inspired us.

Take Fort Lewis College, which is giving a $3,000 raise to faculty and staffers. As reported in The Durango Herald online edition on June 16, FLC Board of Trustees approved this one-time, one-year base pay increase to counter the costs of living. The raise will benefit 375 faculty and administrative professionals. Additionally, about 115 classified employees will receive a 3% annual increase. The college is spending about $1.4 million on these increases.

Last year, the college gave a 3.5% raise to faculty and exempt staff members. For those on the lower end of the salary spectrum, the impact was minimal. So the college decided on the specified dollar amount.

Lauren Pope, FLC spokeswoman, said: “If someone has a base salary of $40,000, $3,000 is a 7.5% increase. And for someone who’s making $100,000, it is a 3% increase.”

We love that workers who need it most are receiving that higher percentage increase. Sure, workers still need housing, but other efforts that invest in employees are sizable. FLC is setting an example. It says this: You matter, please stay.

Purgatory Ski Resort is making changes, too. As reported in today’s the Herald, Purgatory is 70% staffed compared with last summer. Purgatory is also helping employees with cost-of-living expenses and incentives for retention. For example, the resort is offering merit increases five months ahead of schedule for full-time, year-round employees.

“We’ve also updated our wage plan to keep Purg competitive,” Human Resources Director Heather Garland said.

The resort will increase seasonal employee benefits with better wages, health insurance and bumped-up pay for taking on additional jobs. Purgatory is also leasing motel rooms to provide affordable housing.

Purg is showing workers they are valuable. The actions say: Stick around, you’re vital to operations. We want you.

It’s time to get creative with generous, homegrown, wraparound support for our workforce and show we care in actionable ways. Can we pool resources on child care options? Can we collectively offer gift cards from grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and laundromats? Without the benefit of housing, what will it take to keep our workforce? And, dare we say, attract other professionals and skilled laborers?

We’re bringing the question to workers. How do we invest in you? What do you require that would tip the balance toward the choice to stay? For Durango to thrive, a healthy strata of residents across all socioeconomic groups and cultures is critical.

And, hey, depending on the day, prepaid cards for gas, meals and laundry might be the small perks that make a big difference.