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A Busy Opening Day (copy)

Arizona Snowbowl employee Dawson Barber scans hundreds of lift tickets during Snowbowl’s opening day November 2018. While Snowbowl isn't technically in Flagstaff's city limits, employees there are offered the same minimum wage in order to compete with businesses inside the city limits.

Technically, the impact of Flagstaff law ends at the city limits, but it seems the city has an additional sphere of influence -- case in point, the city’s minimum wage law.

The law doesn’t apply to businesses in the county, but that hasn’t stopped several outside city limits from feeling like they should stay in line with the city’s minimum wage, even if some of those businesses aren’t happy about it.

Forest Highlands Golf Club, located south of Flagstaff, is one such business, said Patricia Ashbrook, interim general manager for the club.

Ashbrook said the decision to match Flagstaff's minimum wage was made during the club's annual budget process. During those conversations, the leadership team and the board of directors discuss issues impacting the club's operation, including how to attract and retain staff.

The leadership and board were concerned that it could be difficult to attract the nearly 250 seasonal employees who work for Forest Highlands each summer as they might accept higher paying jobs in Flagstaff, so the board decided the best thing to do was to keep pace.

“It made good business sense for the club and was a positive move for our employees,” Ashbrook said of the board’s decision to stay in line with the city’s minimum wage.

Because of this, the lowest paid employees at the club make a minimum of $12 an hour, which became the minimum wage in Flagstaff in January.

The story is the same 27 miles away and about 2,000 feet higher in elevation at the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort.

At a meeting last month, Snowbowl general manager J.R. Murray told the Flagstaff City Council that the resort had decided to follow the city’s minimum wage and had started paying $12 an hour two months before the law mandated.

In an email, assistant general manager Robert Linde said this early start date made sense for them so they could open the season at the new wage. Because the majority of their workforce lives in Flagstaff, Linde wrote, they wanted to be “quickly identified as employer of choice.”

Linde wrote that they have not yet decided if they will follow the city all the way to $15, however.

“We are trying to keep skiing affordable and labor is our single largest expense. Balancing labor costs and remaining competitive is important for us as an employer and a recreation venue for Flagstaff and northern Arizona,” Linde wrote in an email.

On the other side of Flagstaff, Vanessa Montez, a manager of the Silver Saddle Center about three miles outside town, said the managers and owner also decided to adopt Flagstaff's minimum wage model.

Montez said the business has had to raise prices, but for gas stations that might matter less than other kinds of businesses. Their prices already fluctuate based on the price their vendors are charging for their goods, so customers may be less likely to notice and more willing to accept somewhat higher prices, Montez said.

But at Silver Saddle, the lowest-paid employees have always made more than minimum wage, Montez said. Because the building contains a gas station, storage facility and post office, the owner and management have felt their employees have more responsibilities than those at other service stations and should thus make more.

Montez added that they have had very little turnover in the last three years and she speculated that their decision to increase wages may be a factor in that.

“You never know, the economy could always change,” Montez said, but she added they are confident with the decision they have made.

Updated for clarification at 2:00 p.m. on April 3. 

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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