A Thought on the Economics of Living In Summit County

This thought isn’t fully formed yet, but it struck me as interesting enough to zero draft about/revise just enough to share.

I was walking over to the local Target this afternoon, and something about being so present in the reality of moment-by-moment life got me to realize one aspect of what makes living here so challenging. It’s that there’s no obvious way to move forward economically. You can survive here as a wage-earner–you are probably working two or three different jobs, and you live in a place with a roommate or three, but you can survive.

To move up, though, is very difficult. Wages are flat, because there’s a constant influx of short-term workers who are willing to work for zero dollars an hour (roughly) and a ski pass. But the economy works: tourism provides enough jobs that workers can find a way to make ends meet. However, cost of living, which is to say cost of housing, keeps rising, and quickly, because of a few factors: 1) supply is limited; 2) demand is high, because a) simply being here is desirable, because it’s beautiful and there’s a lot to do; b) all that tourist money coming in makes vacation property-investment profitable; c) There are enough investment bankers and corporate lawyers and cardiologists for whom buying a $700,000 condo as a vacation property isn’t that big a deal.

But notice: there is no real incentive for the economy to produce the kind of jobs that move people up in the world. You survive via tourism or outside money. The result–for most locals, anyway–is a pervasive defeatism that only gets sufficiently assuaged because this is an incredible place to live. After all, even if you’re broke, you can have an epic, amazing day. It costs nothing to, after all, to go hiking.

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