Editor’s note: With no snowfall in Flagstaff yet this winter, the Daily Sun surveyed a range of snow-related businesses and others on how the season was going so far.
Ash Patel, who owns three hotels in the city, said the industry has suffered this season from a lack of snow.
“Normally the weekend of Christmas to New Year’s is a very high impact week,” Patel said in an email, and visitors come from the Phoenix area, but also Las Vegas, other Arizona cities like Kingman, Tucson and Yuma and internationally from Mexico.
“In essence we get traffic from all over,” he said. “This year unfortunately the traffic has not been good and we at our hotels are down by 20 to 25 percent. Rates are also much lower as demand is slower.”
Patel, who has been in the hotel business in Flagstaff since 1991, said the decrease is “totally due to no snow.”
“Now come the worries of a dry winter and summer fires,” he said. “They all hurt our hospitality business. We should already be thinking about that.”
Dave Barnett with Aspen Sports had just one thing to say about the warm winter.
"In general it’s killing us. We need some snow,” Barnett said.
With dry terrain, trail running shoes and hiking boots have been particularly strong sellers at Peace Surplus this winter, Brad Shorb, the store’s director of operations, said last week.
Winter-oriented items like ski socks, goggles, helmets and beanies are “still doing okay,” but the store has done a couple of sales it normally wouldn't be doing in December to try to get those items moving off the shelves, Shorb said.
“It hasn’t been as bad as we thought it was going to be,” he said.
Other categories are taking a bigger hit though. The store isn’t moving any sleds and snowboots are selling slowly, Shorb said.
Ski and snowboard rentals are suffering as well.
On Dec. 19, Shorb said Peace Surplus had rented out 128 pairs of skis so far this winter season. Last year on the same date the store had rented out 582 pairs of skis.
Ski Haus has seen a similar drop in ski and snowboard rentals, owner Josh Bangle said.
Sales of skis, bindings, boots and snowboards are still about on par with last year though, Bangle said. He attributed that to the fact that the store provides a sales service people can’t get on the Internet.
Bangle drew a direct line between Snowbowl’s snowmaking and the viability of his business.
“If Snowbowl didn't offer snowmaking they would not be open and there is a very good chance I would not be open,” Bangle said.
Still, artificial snow can’t make up for the piles of powder that Mother Nature brought last year during the holidays and his staffing reflects that, Bangle said.
Last year he had 27 part-time and full-time employees and right now he has five.
“It’s hurting everybody,” he said.
Restaurant and bar owners said that the lack of snow has brought about a slow holiday season, but business has still been pretty consistent.
Lumberyard Brewing Company on San Francisco Street did not seem to be affected by the general dearth of tourists, as customers waited for their tables and sipped their beers on the outside patio during a day that saw temperatures reach the low 60s.
However, the brewpub’s manager, Kelly Hanseth, said business had been slower due to the absence of snow.
“Business has been steady because the town is still active with tourists but we have seen fewer people,” Hanseth said. “We usually have a lot of snowplayers this time of year and no snow means no snowplay.”
Rendezvous bartender Tyler Jones also said business was good but unseasonably slow.
“Usually we have a lot of tourists coming in during the winter but this year has been a slow holiday,” Jones said. “Seeing the snow in Flagstaff during the holidays is a tradition for a lot of tourists from Phoenix and it is cool enough down there that you don’t need to come up here unless it is snowing.”
Local collision shops said they haven’t seen too much of a drop in repair orders due to the dry weather.
Karoline Waniolek from Latham’s Collision Specialists said business was slow, but that wasn’t too unusual.
“It usually slows down around the holidays,” she said.
Tony Valencia from Route 66 Auto Body said he noticed “a little bit of a drop in business, but it’s not too bad.”
At HomCo Lumber & Hardware, Dan Simpson, who manages the plumbing and electrical department, said sales of snowblowers, shovels and other cold weather gear has dipped. He estimated that the store sold about 50 snowblowers at the beginning of the winter season but very few since. They did sell a few shovels after the dusting of snow Flagstaff got last week.
However, customers are taking advantage of the dry weather to make last-minute repairs in and outside of the home.
“I’ve had a lot of people coming in looking for items to repair irrigation systems and hose bibs,” he said.
It has been thanks entirely to manmade snow that Arizona Snowbowl has 10 runs and four lifts open this holiday season, General Manager J.R. Murray said. Crews have been making snow every night since about mid-November and have built up an 18-inch base that so far is holding well, Murray said.
Since Friday, the mountain has seen just under 2,000 skiers a day, Murray said. That’s down from last year when Murray reported that about 2,800 skiers visited the mountain each day between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The busiest day of that holiday season was Dec. 29, when 4,000 skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes, according to last year’s reports.
Parking lots aren’t even close to capacity this year and there haven’t been any major traffic backups that jammed roads last year at this time, Murray said.
Snowbowl is turning around about 100 people a day who are coming to the mountain seeking snowplay opportunities, he said.
Despite the bare ground around the city, Flagstaff Snow Park owner Jonathan Allen said he, too, has been getting lots of interest in snowplay opportunities. Allen said he gets 10 to 15 emails a day from people asking about opening day for the tubing runs at Fort Tuthill County Park.
Without snowmaking capabilities, Allen said Flagstaff Snow Park has to wait for natural winter precipitation to fall. Staff have already prepped the ground for the season and if the area gets enough snow anytime before mid-February, Allen said they plan to open.
Allen did make a presentation to the Coconino County Board of Supervisors in the fall about the possibility of installing snowmaking at Flagstaff Snow Park.
This season’s weather emphasizes the need and potential benefit from snowmaking, he said. There have been plenty of recent nights that were cold enough to make snow and based on his estimates the snowplay area could have been open by Dec. 15 if it had been able to do so, Allen said.
No snow means no cross country skiing at the Arizona Nordic Village, but the area’s trails are open to hiking and biking, manager Wendell Johnson said. Business is certainly slower than it would be if there was snow on the ground, but Johnson said there are still some groups renting out cabins and yurts on the property.
A lack of snow hasn’t dampened operations at Flagstaff’s newest winter recreation opportunity, a synthetic skating rink at the Flagstaff Visitor Center downtown.
The rink has seen about 3,000 skaters since it opened Dec. 9, according to the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau. The rink, which is operated by the nonprofit Shadows Foundation, has been hitting its 25-person capacity on weekends and has had to create waiting lists, CVB spokeswoman Meg Roederer wrote in an email.
Vicki Burton-Taunton, director of the Shadows Foundation, estimated that 60 percent of those visiting the rink are out-of-town visitors. Skaters seem to be enjoying the nice weather, Burton-Taunton wrote in an email.
Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Meg Roederer said events and activities in the city have been popular this winter.
“All indications continue to support strong tourism as Flagstaff is a destination for all seasons with or without snow,” Roederer said in an email. “Flagstaff events, activities, attractions, dining and lodging are extremely busy. We encourage visitors to book hotel reservations and visit Flagstaff. Attractions such as the North Pole Experience, Great Pinecone Drop, Skate at the Station and the Arizona Snowbowl bring people to the northland for unique and fun experiences.”
Roederer said it is too soon to report a decline or increase in December’s sales tax numbers, lodging occupancy and the average daily hotel room rate, but reports are in progress.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau partnered with Northern Arizona University in September to survey visitors over a 12-month period to generate data that can be used to compare visitor and spending totals and trends for seasons with heavy, moderate or light snowfall, Roederer said.
Northern Arizona University started off the year with one assistant director for Off Campus Life and Community Liaison Programs and is ending the year with a brand new person in the position.
Assistant Director for Off Campus Life and Community Liaison Programs Karissa Morgan was hired in August 2016 to fill the new position created by the city of Flagstaff and NAU. She was supposed to help address issues associate with students living off campus, including being good neighbors and community involvement. Which she did until she announced her departure, nine months later, for a new job in the Valley.
After seven months of refining the jobs duties and responsibilities, reposting the position, and narrowing the field of candidates to two, NAU and the city of Flagstaff announced NAU alumna Valeria Chase as the new neighborhood liaison.
NAU also saw Athletic Director Lisa Campos leave earlier this month. She was replaced by Mike Marlow the former the deputy director of athletics at Washington State.
The university also hired new deans for its College of Arts and Letters and for the W.A. Franke College of Business.
Valerio Ferme, the new dean of Arts and Letters, hails from the University of Colorado-Boulder’s College of Arts and Sciences, where he was in charge of programs like the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Anderson Language Technology Center. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Religious Studies from Brown University, a Masters of Arts in Italian from Indiana University and a doctorate in comparative literature from the University of California at Berkley. He’s published two books on his own and co-written another on criticism and a bilingual book of poetry.
Daniel Goebel, the new dean of the W. A. Franke College of Business, comes from Illinois State University, where he served for the last five years as the university’s associate dean for Academic Programs and Maintenance of Accreditation and as a professor of marketing. He’s had research published in numerous journals and textbooks since 1998 and served on the editorial review board for the Journal of Business Research and the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management.
The university also announced the creation of a new professorship for the study of criminal behavior. That position is supposed to be filled in the new year.
The university also saw a boost of about 800 new students at all of its campuses statewide this year. The university also asked for a 2 percent increase in tuition for new freshmEn for the next school year. Those new students will also have plenty of housing options on and off campus in Flagstaff, with Fremont Station, a new apartment complex geared toward college students, opening this year and two more apartment complexes, the Standard and The Hub, expected to open next year. NAU is also working on the construction of a new honors dorm on campus and the new Sky View Residence Hall opened on campus this year.
The university is also working on the construction of a new recital hall. The new hall is expected to cost $15 million and will be located between Ardrey Memorial Auditorium and the Performing and Fine Arts building. The new 26,863 square-foot building includes a 250-seat recital hall, a choral rehearsal room, an instrument rehearsal room, a choral library, an instrument library and a lobby.
The university also has plans to tear down the old Peterson Hall on campus to make way for a new STEM academic/research building. The estimated cost of the new building is $139 million and does not include the cost of demolishing Peterson. It will be financed through system revenue bonds. Details of what programs and departments will move into the building have not been fully determined yet. A demolition and construction date has not been set yet.
The university will also spend $17.4 million to renovate the third and fourth floors of the Science Annex, which once housed the chemistry department. The floors will be turned into office space to replace the office space lost by the demo of Peterson.
NAU’s College of Education also received a $1 million gift from George Roberts, the co-chair and co-CEO of KKR, a major California investment firm. Roberts donated the money in honor of his friendship with William Franke, the businessman who donated $25 million to NAU’s College of Business in 2007. Roberts’ donation will be used to fund $5,000 scholarships for minority and first-generation college students who are studying to become teachers. The students who receive these scholarship will be known as “Franke Scholars.”
PHOENIX -- Arizonans at the bottom end of the income scale are going to be getting a bit more in their paychecks this coming week.
As of Monday, the new state minimum wage will be $10.50 an hour for most private sector employees. That's 50 cents more than the current figure -- or a bit more than $1,000 a year, before taxes.
It also will now be $2.45 an hour more than in 2016, the year voters approved a multi-step plan to eventually get the state's minimum up to $12 an hour by 2020.
In Flagstaff, which passed its own higher minimum wage in 2016, the minimum will increase for the third time in two years on January 1, when the wage will be $11, up from $10.50, which became the city’s minimum wage in July 2017.
The city’s minimum wage will eventually reach $15.50 in January 2022.
How many of the state's 2.8 million workers will be affected by the hikes on Jan. 1 remains unclear. The Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity has no figures of the number of workers currently earning less than $10.50.
But doing some extrapolation of 2016 data, state economists said that, theoretically speaking, slightly more than 500,000 workers should be affected by the January 1 change, a number they admit is "probably an overestimate.''
There's also the fact that any bump to the bottom likely pushes up the wages of those are making $10.50 or more as employers must provide an incentive for existing workers to stay.
What is clear is that the first step, implemented at the beginning of 2017, did have an impact, particularly in the leisure and hospitality industry which, generally speaking, pays the least among all segments of the Arizona economy.
Last month the average hourly earnings for those in this sector was $15.06. That compares with $14.36 a year earlier, a 4.9 percent increase.
By contrast, average wages among both manufacturers and financial services employers are up just 1.7 percent in the past year.
There are, however, some exceptions to that. Wages paid in the state's professional and business services are up year-over-year by 7.8 percent.
What also is clear is that employment in bars and restaurants, the segment of the economy with the largest share of lower-wage workers, continues to increase.
An analysis by Capitol Media Services finds that the number of people working last month in bars and restaurants was 241,900.
That's 5.3 percent higher than a year earlier. It also far exceeds the 1.9 percent year-over-year increase in all private sector employment.
But Steve Chucri, president of the Arizona Restaurant Association, argued that the higher wages have had an effect -- and that the health of the industry overall does not reflect what's happening to individual establishments.
"Don't mistake that because more restaurants are opening and that hiring might be up that that means everything's good and fine,'' he said.
He pointed to the announcement last week by Corner Bakery that it was closing three of its Phoenix-area locations and firing all the workers. Jim Long, CEO of parent company Blue Mountain Cafes said in a prepared statement that higher minimum wages in Arizona were a contributing factor.
But a fourth cafe in downtown Phoenix remains open, as does one in Tucson. And Chucri conceded that there may be other factors that have led to some restaurants closing their doors.
"Competition is fierce in this industry,'' he said. "It always has been, it always will be.''
Chucri said, though, he believes that the higher wages are "having a negative impact on the bottom line.''
Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, acknowledged that employment in the state continues to grow, even with the higher minimum wage his organization opposed.
But Hamer said even with an increase in the overall number of people working, he, like Chucri, remains convinced that the change has had an effect and that some people have lost their jobs.
For example, he said the garage where he parks no longer has any attendants.
"Those jobs have been automated out of existence,'' Hamer said.
"I can't say for a fact it's because of the minimum wage,'' he said. "But I would imagine it's a contributing factor.''
Chucri said the same thing is happening in his industry, pointing to fast-food and similar restaurants that have automated the ordering process, with patrons making their selections on computer screens -- and even being able to pay -- before picking up their meals at the counter. He said that's likely to spread to the "back of the house,'' where there's no reason that a machine can't make french fries.
Having lost the battle with voters over a state minimum wage, Hamer said his organization is hoping to get legislators to make a change to the other provision in the 2016 measure: a requirement for employers to provide at least three days of paid time off each year -- five days for companies with 15 or more workers. Hamer said companies need more flexibility to work around employee requests during times of the highest demand.
What's significant is that Hamer is prepared to offer some concessions to workers to get what he wants.
The reason is politics: It takes a three-fourths vote in both the House and Senate to alter anything that has been approved at the ballot. And there simply aren't enough Republicans to do that without Democrat support.
Does that mean boosting the number of mandated days off?
"I'm not going to give you any specifics,'' he said.
"But we'd be willing in some way to sweeten what's available to employees in exchange for flexibility,'' Hamer continued. "We understand there is no other way to address this.''
WASHINGTON — It's a Christmas gift the middle class might want to give back in a few years.
The Republican tax overhaul bestows an initial infusion of cash on nearly every taxpayer next year. That extra income is likely to please millions of households, support consumer spending and perhaps give the economy a short-term lift.
Ordinary households should enjoy it while it lasts. Over the next several years, multiple analyses of the law have found, those tax cuts will gradually fade — and then morph into tax hikes for a majority of people who are solidly middle class.
Two features in the law — a child tax credit and a $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions — won't adjust to keep pace with inflation, thereby reducing their value each year. What's more, the individual tax cuts are set to expire after 2025. And once the individual tax rates revert to their former levels, a stingier inflation gauge would raise taxes for most households.
President Donald Trump has largely sidestepped these trade-offs in promoting the overhaul he signed on Friday, a measure whose benefits largely favor corporations and wealthy individuals.
"It's going to be a tremendous thing for the American people," Trump said before signing the measure into law. "And I consider this very much a bill for the middle class and a bill for jobs."
Trump has also said that "whoever" is president in 2025 would ensure that the expiring tax cuts for individuals are renewed. But doing so would cost heavily: The national debt would likely balloon by over $2 trillion — far more than the $1.5 trillion increase that lawmakers approved for the tax cuts — according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
The rising debt could eventually force spending cuts to social and educational programs that serve many who aspire to join the middle class. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have both raised the prospect of reducing spending on social services next year, with Ryan specifically mentioning changes to Medicare.
Trump, Republican lawmakers and their allies are betting that higher take-home pay from the tax cuts will shore up public support for a law that poll show a sizable number of Americans view unfavorably. They also appear confident that ordinary Americans will have no objection if corporations and the wealthy receive the bulk of the tax-cut gains so long as middle class households, on average, also receive some benefits.
More than 80 percent of taxpayers will receive a tax cut in 2018, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. These tax cuts skew most heavily toward the top 5 percent of earners. This group — with incomes starting at $307,900 — would collect 42.6 percent of the tax cuts. By 2027, they would enjoy no less than 99.2 percent of the tax cuts.
By contrast, a majority of people earning less than $93,200 would, on average, absorb a tax increase in 2027.
"The tax bill gives a big tax cut to corporations with the hope that, eventually, it will boost wages at the bottom," said Elaine Maag, a senior researcher at the Tax Policy Center. "But it does seem a little counterintuitive that you would raise taxes on low- and middle-income families that are struggling."
One reason that the tax overhaul favors the wealthy is how it would account for inflation. The current $1,000 child tax credit would double to $2,000. The credit would remain at $2,000 for eight years, without any adjustment for inflation, before reverting back to $1,000.
Some policy advocates note that the child credit wasn't previously adjusted for inflation. But the expanded child credit helps offset the law's elimination of personal exemptions for children and parents that until now has reduced taxable income. Personal exemptions have been increased yearly to account for inflation — a benefit that will now end.
Nor would the $10,000 cap on deducting state and local taxes adjust for inflation. If the cap were adjusted for inflation at 2 percent, for example, it would likely have reached above $11,700 in 2025 rather than remain at $10,000.
Another factor in the likelihood of tax increases after 2025 is that the government would adopt a less generous measure of inflation. Rather than apply the traditional consumer price index as it now does, the IRS will start revising levels of taxable income with a measure that aims to anticipate consumer behavior: It assumes that people will limit the inflation in their daily lives by replacing costlier products with cheaper ones. But over time, this inflation gauge tends to understate inflation and would impose higher taxes on individuals.
Lily Batchelder, a law professor at New York University and former Obama White House adviser, argues that the inflation gauge is being changed to help finance the measure's corporate tax cuts, which the overhaul makes permanent.
"It will result in more and more households owing more in taxes, and it will hit low-and middle-income families especially hard," Batchelder said. "A family earning $20,000 to $30,000 will see their after-tax income fall by 1 percent on average. While 1 percent may not seem like a lot, when you are struggling to make ends meet and support your family, every little bit counts."
Supporters of the tax overhaul counter that Americans will look past the fine print and judge the changes based on their own individual incomes, the likelihood of pay raises resulting from corporate tax cuts and the health of the economy.
"Americans right now are skeptical, really, of anything that comes out of Washington — you've got to prove it to them," said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by the Koch Brothers network of donors that helped campaign for the overhaul.