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Don Rogers: An idea that could work for downvalley business community

Don Rogers
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

I think the downvalley business community is on to something.

I like the framework of an idea to recast the Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce into an umbrella that helps nascent business organizations in Eagle and Gypsum, with some help from the key governments that have direct interests in the community’s economic welfare.

I love how business leaders have been reaching out to each other, if imperfectly to be sure, and been willing to have long discussions about how to build community and the lower Eagle Valley’s economic fortunes, too. I sense growing enthusiasm, as well.

And I’ve been very impressed with how Tim Cochrane — now the former chamber guy — has guided an often chaotic conversations through a series of sessions even after he resigned as chamber director because there no longer was enough money to pay him.

Maybe his biggest community leadership job came after he left the chamber as an employee and agreed to requests to finish out facilitating the initial series of conversations.

No one has to take up what he sketched out last Thursday at the Dusty Boot. He was crystal clear about that, repeating over and over again this was just an idea. Try it if it sounds good, build on it, or let it go.

A show of hands had 38 people liking the general idea and two with enough concern about possible complexity to keep their hands down, at least for the moment. Let’s call that a good start.

Boiled down, it’s a simple idea: Eagle and Gypsum have business associations that focus directly on their communities. They put an equal number of board members on the Eagle Valley Chamber, which has legal standing to accept funding that the could not otherwise get and serves as that regional body for greater efforts that will need more partnership between the communities, along with some government support.

The umbrella fits the Eagle-centric group that’s coming together now. It also fits local businessman Joe Frasco’s effort to put a small group together to plan a more spectacular event that attracts the outside world to western Eagle County.

The umbrella group can help the Gypsum business community better organize locally, and it can be an effective liaison with the upvalley business community, as well.

Of course, the current chamber board would need to agree to any new plan to reorganize. I understand that they’ll look at this idea on Thurs-day.

Leaner times can be providential for forming closer relationships, including chambers, governments and other means of pulling the business community together to get the most out of our circumstances.

That’s what I see in the weekly discussions in Eagle right now.

What hasn’t been discussed so much is the tender state of all the valley’s chamber organizations with the advent of the Epic Pass.

This also shows how much Vail Resorts has helped the chambers over the years in a way that hasn’t been appreciated fully.

The chamber leaders will not be quick to admit this, but the deals that they could offer on the merchant passes boosted their memberships by about a third. At least. There are other reasons to join a chamber, or leave, but this one is right up there.

The Epic Pass, which everyone now applauds, is a better bargain with the low price and absence of blackout dates than the merchant pass with blackout dates, some training requirements and similar pricing.

A consequence of the Epic Pass is that a fair number of businesses with the ability to stay members have dropped out of the groups that offered this benefit.

I don’t suggest Vail Resorts drop the Epic and bring the merchant pass back, although I’d argue for sweetening the merchant pass deal.

But besides the chambers adjusting and making themselves more valuable to the business community, I think our local governments need to come more to the table.

After all, they benefit from business directly, and have a rather direct interest in how business fares in our county. I do think county and town governments should do more to develop funding trickles for them. A trickle out can mean a torrent back, done well.

But first, the business leaders must work together better than they ever have in the past. Barriers — up to downvalley, town to town, shopping district to shopping district — have to tumble down and stay down. Then they will be in position to invite government to participate.

That’s the lesson of these leaner times. Abraham Lincoln had it right in America’s worst moment, the Civil War: That bit about a “house divided cannot stand.” It applies now, too.

Don Rogers is the editor and associate publisher of the Vail Daily. He can be reached at 970-748-2920 or drogers@vaildaily.com. He welcomes your comments.


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