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Town Square, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Town Square, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

A silver lining on a quick trip this week to Jackson Hole, Wyoming: the rental car agency I’d booked with went belly up, giving me a chance to question locals as I rode public transport. My chats with a shuttle bus driver, two taxi drivers, the manager of a motel, a homeless man, and a seasonal worker from Jamaica shed light on a vacation paradise similar in striking ways to the Outer Cape except in one way: it’s doing pretty well in the recession.  Here’s a bit of what I learned:

There is no industry except for tourism.  People come from all over the world to visit Grand Teton National Forest and nearby Yellowstone.  Single greatest reason people move to the area? “Scenery.”  The town of Jackson has a year-round population of about 10,000.  Jackson’s the seat of Teton County (4,008 square miles), whose year-round population is about 20,000.  Those numbers swell by about 52,000 in the summer, as tourists and second-home-owners journey to Wyoming and Montana.  The numbers rise in the winter when about 5,000 venture to the area to ski.  Those who stay year-round take care of the tourists and the ballooning second-home market.

Most of the land is publicly owned. Ninety-seven percent of the land in Teton County is publicly owned.  Conservationists have carefully guarded the other three per cent, blocking massive development.

Housing costs are of the highest in the nation. Estimated median house or condo values in and around Jackson in July hovered around $600,000.  There is no affordable housing.  Year-rounders said rentals start at $1,200 per month, not including utilities.  Minimum wage seasonal workers rely on employers to provide subsidized housing.

There’s a shortage of seasonal workers. Employers use agencies on the internet to recruit summer help.  These agencies vet applicants and handle visas. The workers come from all over the world, although this year, many are from Ukraine.

Unemployment rates have dropped this summer. May = 6.4%.  Jun = 4.8%.  Why?  Seasonal workers.  Last summer, the unemployment rate hovered at around 1.9%.

Why aren’t things as bad in Jackson as they are on the Outer Cape?

There’s a winter tourist season.  Ski Truro?

There are several large national parks with picturesque wildlife in the area.  Grand Teton, alone, draws between 3 and 4 million animal-happy visitors a year.  Import elk and bears to the Cape?

No personal or state income tax in Wyoming.  Right.

The largest slice of Jackson’s small, rural population falls between the ages of 30 and 44, and it is growing.  They have kids.  ‘Nuff said.

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