EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Eagle County, like every other county in the state, has been part of Gov. John Hickenlooper's Bottom Up economic development planning in recent months and released the local plan Thursday. Don Cohen, executive director of the Economic Council of Eagle County, said the county really has its act together in terms of being ahead of the curve with economic development."We definitely want to participate on a regional level, but ultimately economic development is done at the local level,' Cohen said. The county plan defines three main pillars of the local economy: Recreation and tourism, health and wellness, and learning and education."We believe that creating and expanding businesses in these three sectors will, over the long haul, give us a more balanced and diverse economy," Cohen said. Cohen said each community within the county needs to think about what fits into one of those three buckets because those three buckets are what Eagle County can do, and do well.Manufacturing, for example, just isn't something that would work here. There's limited land space and it just doesn't fit, but there are other economic engines that can work in this community, Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland said. The town of Vail is engaged in talks with the Steadman Clinic and Steadman Philippon Research Institute about the various options within Vail that could help grow their business and the local economy, and Cleveland said there are also talks going on about building a medical education and health and wellness campus in Edwards.While the ideas might seem far-fetched for now, the fact that people are talking and trying to come up with ways to turn the area into more than just a winter ski destination is encouraging, Cleveland said. "There's a lot of wishing going on, and how realistic it is I think is up for question," Cleveland said. "But at least people are thinking. ... That's how things get done."Chris Romer, executive director of the Vail Valley Partnership, calls the county's plan a "good strategic document.""It rightfully depends on the private sector to look at opportunities on how new jobs can be created," Romer said. "The role our valley (stakeholders and) governments can play is to actively seek out, recruit and encourage opportunities that fit within these categories."Cohen said the opportunity for health and education is huge. The valley is already a beautiful place that "lifts the spirit," he said. "We can become an attraction point. ... Despite whatever happens on the ski hill, we would have other reasons for people to come and stay," Cohen said. "We've got to invent it and do it in a different way than 'let's get more retail and build a big recreation amenity."
If the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments can obtain a federal designation as an economic development district, the region could get its hands on important federal grant money to help bolster the region's economy.One big question remains, though, as to whether Eagle County would end up seeing any of the grant money.Cleveland, who serves on the executive committee of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, said that while the U.S. Development Administration's rules say that a region with one economically disadvantaged county can apply for the economic development district distinction, the rest of the region's wealth might stand in the way."I honestly don't know that we would get (the distinction) because of the nature of the counties," Cleveland said. The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments includes Jackson, Grand, Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties, of which Jackson County is the area that needs the most help. Should the region get the federal designation, it's unknown whether any federal grant money would make its way to the other counties in the region or if the money would end up going entirely to Jackson County.
A draft 2011 Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy is available for public comment at www.nwccog.org. The public comment period ends May 25.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.