We'll explore the theme of economic development, including local efforts and opportunities for our community, over the next few weeks.Like many communities, economic development is a continuing challenge facing us here in Eagle County. In fact, the question was asked in a recent meeting: "What in the world is economic development?" It's a great question to ask, as everyone seems to have a different opinion on what economic development means in our valley.What is recognized is that hope is not a strategy for economic development; for maybe the first time in Vail's 50 years, our county and community have come to the realization that the economic patterns have shifted. No longer can we depend on unbridled growth, construction and development jobs and skyrocketing real estate sales to sustain ourselves economically. So what's one to do?At the Vail Valley Partnership, along with many other entities throughout Eagle County, we've found that, in business development as in business itself, collaboration and teamwork pays off.Webster's dictionary defines collaborate as "to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected." The beauty and simplicity of collaboration as a part of the proverbial "economic development toolkit" should not be understated, as most accept we're stronger when working together. The lesson and benefits of collaboration directly affect our economic development efforts. And the collaborative model exists. In fact, we don't have to look far for a good model for regional success in economic development. Just down the hill from us in Denver lives the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. The group, an affiliate of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, is a truly regional economic development entity in which many area economic development groups have joined together to represent, and further, the interests of an entire region. They partner with over 70 cities, counties, and economic development organizations in the seven-county Metro Denver and two-county Northern Colorado region and provide an excellent template for us in Eagle County to duplicate at our smaller regional level.The Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation works to create a competitive environment that attracts companies and jobs is backed by the region's business community, with primary funding coming from the private business community, as well as participating cities and counties. Sound familiar? Interestingly enough, that's the exact same model that the Vail Valley Partnership has been built on for the past 48 years. The public-private partnership between the business community (our 700 member businesses) and participating municipalities (our stakeholders) has allowed us to grow to include not only traditional chamber benefits to our members, but to operate programs including the Economic Council of Eagle County, which works to promote the long-term economic health of Eagle County. Our group sales efforts & destination marketing efforts alone will result in over $69 million in guest spending in 2012. And it's all based on collaboration.Our philosophy at the Partnership and the Economic Council is simple: we are relentlessly collaborative. Our various economic development programs (from the Health and Wellness Initiative to the Vail Valley Merchant Alliance to the Sports and Event Coalition to the Economic Research Center) are designed to drive tourism and/or provide tools to the business community. We're pleased to work in Eagle County, where each of our partner organizations (member businesses on the private side and municipalities and Eagle County on the public side) are equally committed to the economic vitality of the entire region. Much like our neighbor to the east at the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, we find that working together in a collaborative manner is the key to success.Collaboration and the role of the Vail Valley Partnership in helping lead this charge is a small, yet important, part of the larger theme of economic development in the Vail Valley. We'll continue the discussion of economic development in Eagle County next week with more specific examples of various collaborative efforts helping to improve efficiencies in our valley and to further develop the definition of economic development as it applies to Eagle County.What can your business do to help? If you benefit from our collaborative community efforts, get off the sidelines and join the Partnership. If you are already a member, tell your neighbors to join to help us do more here in the valley. Chris Romer is executive director of the Vail Valley Partnership.