For more than 20 years, Teton Motors, nestled in the scenic mountain city of Jackson, Wyo., has offered an unusual employee benefit that has become increasingly critical to retain and attract talent: housing.
The dealership group, which operates Chevrolet and Subaru stores, first began offering on-site housing to employees in 1998. Today, Teton Motors owns 12 housing units that it rents to workers at below-market rates in the pricey tourist town — a perk that has attracted new employees and helped the dealerships keep existing staffers.
“It definitely has helped with retention, because everybody knows what the market is like and they do appreciate what we offer them,” said Dave Auge, Teton Motors president. “It’s a win-win.”
Back in 1998, the group was leasing a plot of land in Jackson as a used-vehicle lot to complement its Chevrolet store, Auge recalled. When the land’s owner died, Teton Motors bought the parcel and made plans to build an office for the used-vehicle operation.
Even then, housing resources were at a premium, so the local government required those investing in commercial construction to include housing in their plans or pay a fee, Auge said. Teton Motors opted for housing, building a two-bedroom apartment on the second story of the used-vehicle sales office.
‘Always going to be this need’
In the early 2000s, when Teton Motors bought another parcel of land for a collision center, it again built housing — a studio, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments. Building apartments above a collision center meant extra costs and precautions to make the housing compliant and safe, Auge noted, but the plan also helped ease a challenge affecting employees.
“It was pretty evident even back then that housing was hard to come by and it was expensive,” Auge said.
As Teton Motors expanded, so did its employee housing. The group acquired a Subaru dealership in 2008 and added two second-story rental units when it built a new showroom. It also bought two complexes with five rental units just blocks away. When Teton Motors expanded the Subaru store’s service department in 2016, it added another second-story rental unit to the building.
Teton Motors’ 12 rental units range from a studio to a three-bedroom apartment. Auge declined to say how much employees pay monthly in rent but did describe it as “anywhere from 40 to 60 percent under market.”
In the fourth quarter of 2021, the average market rent in Jackson for a one-bedroom unit was $2,141 per month while a two-bedroom unit was $2,772 per month, according to the Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing Department, which collects rental data on the town’s five main apartment complexes.
Teton Motors’ units are rented out on a month-to-month basis, and employees can live in them as long as they wish, Auge said.
“We realized that there was always going to be this need,” he said. “There was always going to be a housing shortage. Especially during the peak seasons, summer and winter. And obviously, we’re not a seasonal business. We needed to have people have someplace year-round.”
People working all types of jobs with the group have used the employee housing over the years, from salespeople and detailers to managers and office staff. One employee rented a unit for eight years. Some workers used the housing while they saved enough money to buy a home outside of Teton County where houses cost significantly less but require a longer commute, Auge said.
Marilyn Garcia, Teton Motors’ title clerk and receptionist, rents a three-bedroom apartment above the collision center. She previously worked for the company and left but returned a year ago, drawn in by the housing offer.
“That’s why I came back to work here,” said Garcia, who noted she pays $1,500 per month in rent. “I have three kids. So when they had a three-bedroom apartment available, I jumped on it.”
Instead of a 45-minute commute each way from other towns along the Idaho-Wyoming border, Garcia walks a block and a half to the dealership and gets to live and work in Jackson.
“For me and my situation, if I did not have housing, I would not be able to live in Jackson,” she said.
Auge co-owns Teton Motors with his brother, Jim, who is vice president. The company, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, was started by the siblings’ father. It sold just more than 800 new and used vehicles in 2021 and has 48 employees.
Jackson is in Teton County, which includes Grand Teton National Park and a large portion of Yellowstone National Park. Ninety-seven percent of Teton County land is federally owned, which means just a scant portion of property in the county can be bought for private use.
Housing prices, which have always been high, are getting more expensive at a rapid clip, Auge said. “It just seems to have blown up here even worse in the last couple of years,” he said.
According to Realtor.com, the median listing home price in Teton County was $3 million in April, nearly double the comparable year-earlier number. In May 2019, the median listing price was $995,000.
Teton Motors continues to seek opportunities to add housing units to its rental stock, but the high prices are a challenge. “I almost feel like that we’re getting priced out of the market now,” Auge said. “The prices are just crazy.”