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Juggling jobs in the Methow

Let’s face it: The economy ain’t what it used to be. With the economic downturn just five-plus years ago, the financial ground is firming slowly. Full-time employment is harder to access. But for some living in the Methow, it pays to get creative with employment.

photoRandi Smith makes the most of her time at job #1, working at the Rocking Horse Bakery.

With most low-to-mid level jobs, constant employment in a seasonally shifting valley is a challenge. For some, particularly the gen-y or Millenial-aged residents of the valley, it takes more than one source of employment to ensure financial survival.

Mid-morning in the Rocking Horse Bakery’s kitchen is a flurry of quick-moving hands and loud music. Though they scramble to prepare for lunch, the staff is relaxed and smiling. Randi Smith, 23, eyes the clock while making dozens of sandwiches. She doesn’t want to be late for her next job.

“Today is one of my long days,” smiles Smith, her apron dappled with flour. “I’ll be heading over to job number two pretty quick, here.”

Smith is one of many people in the Methow Valley who juggle more than one job. After her shift is up at the Bakery, Smith heads over to her second job as an aftercare teacher at Little Star Montessori school. She also takes the odd babysitting job every now and then. On average, Smith works 40-50 hours a week with two jobs, and it covers her expenses and allows her the freedom and flexibility she wants. Smith is an avid outdoors woman and takes her free time seriously. “I’m not willing to trade my hours away.”

Nick Allgood also appreciates the diversity of having more than one job in the valley. After making a list of their top 10 places to live in Washington, Allgood and his partner, Elana Mainer, chose the Methow.  The pair moved to the valley in 2011 after Nick landed a part-time job as the after-school program coordinator, but with less than ten weekly hours, Allgood had to get creative.

Nick took a job serving at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop and later became an instructor with the Classroom in Bloom Program. He now works as a cellarman at the Brewery. “I went to work for the brewery because it had such a good atmosphere,” said Allgood. “It’s a fun crowd.”

Hospitality and service industries are the second largest employers in the Methow Valley--just after forestry and wildlife research. The majority of service industry jobs, however, are part-time.

But the part-time employment isn’t localized. Keith Hall, former chief of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said in an interview with that in the first six months of 2013, part-time employment was responsible for 97% of the nation’s net job creation. The part-time hiring trend comes in the wake of the 2008 recession as businesses can now begin to build themselves up conservatively.  These cautious hiring trends also come in light of the looming and still murky Affordable Care Act requirements. 

photoAndy Oosterhof pauses briefly from servicing his snow plowing vehicles. He's hoping for snow.

More business are choosing to hire part-time or temporary contract employees instead of full-time employees. These temporary workers provide services when companies are in need of staff but will not face layoffs when business wanes. Alternatively, part-time employees can take advantage of their flexible schedules and heap on the hours when they can.

“Everything in this valley is part-time,” said Andy Oosterhoff. “It’s really difficult to have a full-time, year-round job here.”

Andy Oosterhoff is the owner of F&S Excavating in Winthrop, and though his excavation services are limited to the good-weather months, Oosterhof is always working. He maintains four employees almost year round, with the exception of the shoulder seasons. “When there isn’t any snow to deal with and there’s a foot and a half of frost in the ground, there’s just not enough work to go around.”

When Andy isn’t running an excavator, he manages the Pine Forest Development. At Pine Forest, Oosterhoff inspects new homes, sees to the garbage and water maintenance and plows the roads and residential driveways in the winter. Before he took the Pine Forest management position four years ago, he sold cords of wood to supplement his income.

Oosterhof caters to the seasons where others can’t. Many of the labor industries in the Methow are seasonal, allowing many to patch jobs together to stay in the valley. This seasonal employment extends well beyond forestry or construction work.

During the winter months, Oosterhoff tends to his 160+ clients’ snow removal needs. After a four inch snow storm, he often works a non-stop 20-hour day, and exponentially more for bigger storms. Though his snow-plowing days are long and the work is abundant at times, it is sporadic. This year Andy, as well as many others reliant on the winter tourism season, is chomping at the bit for snow.


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