White-collar workers among those commuting up valley
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Will Shoemaker
Connor McGurk (right) and Rodrigo Marquez (center) wait for a bus on a recent evening after completing their shifts at Community Banks of Colorado in Crested Butte.
Connor McGurk (right) and Rodrigo Marquez (center) wait for a bus on a recent evening after completing their shifts at Community Banks of Colorado in Crested Butte.

Connor McGurk graduated from the University of Kentucky this past May with a dual degree in economics and finance. Yet, drawn by the magic of the mountains, McGurk and his girlfriend moved to the Gunnison Valley.

McGurk landed a job as a teller at Community Banks of Colorado in Crested Butte, but housing options the couple found in that area were out of their financial grasp.

“We were looking for places in CB, but really the only places that we could afford for rental were in Gunnison, and even there it seemed pretty limited — the availability of things and the price as well,” he explained.

As a result, the couple currently rents one bedroom in a ranch-style house north of Gunnison, which they share with the landlord — and McGurk boards the bus each morning headed north to work.

He exemplifies a growing contingent of professionals who work in Crested Butte but live in Gunnison as a result of high rents and low housing availability. While those filling some jobs — such as servers and housekeepers — have long been forced out of living in the community where they work, white-collar workers comprise a growing number of commuters.

On any given day, neatly pressed shirts and slacks signal those employees’ office-setting vocation as they await the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation (RTA) bus to and from work.

“You see everyone who does everything,” McGurk said of the bus rides. “You have the housekeeping staff from CBMR. You see people working at the grocery taking the bus. It’s obviously not confined to a certain profession.”

A 2017 survey of ridership on RTA buses found that 63 percent of passengers board the bus for the purpose of commuting to work.

Rodrigo Marquez is among that group living in Gunnison but working in Crested Butte. In an ideal world, the personal banker said he would choose to live in a one-bedroom apartment in the community where he works.

“I make a livable wage. I’m not struggling,” he said. “But I just wouldn’t be able to afford one bedroom for $1,500 a month or more, which is typically what the market here prices things at.”

Similarly, Tina Kempin, branch president of Crested Butte Bank, said five of the business’ eight employees — spanning a wide range of roles — currently reside down valley.

“That is actually not a new phenomenon for us,” she said. “I would say that the majority of our employees have communed from Gunnison to Crested Butte for the last 10 years.”

While Kempin acknowledged that the situation is less than ideal if one of those employees needed to get to work on short notice, the bank has found a creative solution in allowing its staff  to carpool from Gunnison in a company-owned truck.

The issue has drawn attention in recent months as a result of a controversial housing proposal just south of Crested Butte proposed by Houston-based Gatesco. While decision makers are at loggerheads over the scope and size of the project, many of the professionals who commute from down valley — including McGurk and Marquez — say they’d welcome The Corner at Brush Creek.

Gatesco employee Hannah Zarr has made the rounds in the valley since late August, gauging interest in and need for affordable housing through surveys and a petition — data which the company planned to present Tuesday to Mt. Crested Butte Town Council.

Based on Gatesco’s surveys, a total of 412 people expressed interest in renting or owning at The Corner at Brush Creek — 254 of whom signed their names to a waiting list for the development.

Among 370 respondents who offered their current income, Gatesco data show that 55 percent of those surveyed live in a household which earns more than $24,250 per year — with 26 percent of respondents in a household earning more than $38,801 annually.

“Even people making in the $38,000-$54,000 range, they’re still filling out this form,” Zarr said. “They’re still not able to find affordable apartments here.”

 

(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at editor@gunnisontimes.com.)