Business breeds economic optimism |

Business breeds economic optimism

Cliff Thompson

If you’re trying to judge how business this year compares to last, there’s reason to be optimistic.

Some of the key first quarter statistics kept by local governments- sales tax, building permits and commercial air passengers- show improvement over last year.

Passenger traffic at the Eagle County Airport from January through March this year was up 5 percent for the first quarter, to 131,205. For the winter season, it is showing a double-digit gain -12 percent- to 182,000. Much of the growth in passengers this year came in February, which showed a 14.1 percent increase to 42,809.

Last year, war and terrorism jitters caused airline travelers around the world to stay at home. In Eagle County just 37,507 used the airport in February 2003 and total passengers last year dropped by 500 to 170,60. “February was a spectacular month,” said Jack Ingstad, Eagle County administrator. “March appeared flat because Easter fell in April.”

This summer there will be direct flights from Dallas and Denver to Eagle County. That’s expected to further boost the passenger total for the year.

Meanwhile, a record 130 building permits were issued by the county for the first quarter. That’s a 12 percent increase over last year’s first quarter. Building permits are issued for new construction and renovations. The valuation of those permits, however, was $52 million. Last year the total valuation of permits was $135 million.

One thing that didn’t increase during the first quarter was foreclosures. During the first 90 days of 2004 the overall number of foreclosures on real property in Eagle County was identical to last year’s – 34.

The total number of foreclosures, 72, is up from the previous year’s 69, but foreclosures on timeshares made up the difference, said Kathy Knox, deputy public trustee.

Sales tax received by the county in the first quarter- generally viewed as an indicator of economic activity- jumped 18 percent to $1.075 million. The $908,572 in sales tax during the first quarter last year was a decline from the previous year of nearly 5 percent.

Sales tax reports from previous months this year showed the two big box stores that opened in Avon last spring and summer, Wal-Mart Supercenter and The Home Depot, had contributed heavily to previous monthly sales tax increases.

In Vail the sales tax receipts from the town’s 4 percent tax showed double-digit increases. January was up 10 percent and February’s was up 10.5 percent. The back-to-back increases are reversing what has been a decade-long trend of flattening or decreasing sales tax collections. Sales tax provides 45 percent of the town’s annual revenue.

Skier numbers at Vail and Beaver Creek resorts will be released by the ski company later in the year. The third quarter is when the company sees the largest portion of its ski season revenue and is the make-or-break month for determining profitability. Last year the ski company reported a pre-tax loss of $14.5 million on total revenue of $710 million.

The ski company also reported that there were more destination skiers at its resorts than in previous seasons.

Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.

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