Downvalley businesses getting energized in Eagle County |

Downvalley businesses getting energized in Eagle County

Kristin Anderson/EnterpriseCalifornia resident Suzie Nguyen walks away from the Eagle Information Center after learning that it had already closed for the day Monday afternoon.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce has hit hard times, but ironically, the business communities in Eagle and Gypsum, Colorado have seldom been more active.

Born out of the Broadway road work two years ago and then spurred on by the national economic downturn, the new One Eagle merchants association is contemplating a wide array of activities for the months ahead. The group’s mission is to spread the word about Eagle’s shopping and dining options by touting its resources and hosting special events.

Not to be outdone, business owners in Gypsum launched their own group this week ” the Gypsum Chamber. The Gypsum Chamber’s main goals are to support and promote local businesses and help them grow.

But what does all this community-centered economic activity mean for the more regionally-focused Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce? In these tough economic times, are merchants in neighboring communities more likely to square off as competitors or cooperate as allies?

Members of the current Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Board talk about the need for a strategic plan for the organization. Chamber president Steve Quiring believes the organization’s mission to promote businesses in western Eagle County is still necessary.

“I want to see the chamber continue. I would like to see things remain positive, ” he says. “We need to find a solution for a chamber director to manage operations.”

Earlier this month, longtime chamber director Tim Cochrane resigned, noting that the organization could no longer afford his full-time position. Since that announcement, discussions about the chamber’s future have been on-going and the organization’s executive board has a special meeting planned to discuss future options.

The chamber is also continuing its e-mail communications with members and is proceeding with plans for the Lane Frost Bull Riders event in Eagle. The event is planned April 11 at the Eagle River Center at the Eagle County Fairgrounds beginning at 6 p.m.

But while the chamber board makes decisions about the organization’s future, the newly formed Eagle merchants association is laying plans for downtown events and promotions. The group has christened itself “One Eagle” and the name itself is telling. One Eagle aims to bridge the five different business areas in town ” downtown, Chambers Avenue, Market Street, Eagle Ranch and Eagle Crossing (where the Back Bowl is located).

One Eagle organizers Erin and Doug Seabury note that the genesis of the group goes back to when the community’s downtown merchants banded together to weather the Broadway redevelopment project. The core members of that group launched special events such as Potatopalooza in the fall and Party for the Planet, an Earth Day celebration.

When the national economy tanked, group members began working together again on a “Shop Eagle” promotion and ultimately decided to open up membership to all community merchants.

The Eagle business community’s reaction has been positive. The group has partnered with area media to promote businesses and began planning for special events. The newest event is Eagle Cycling Month from April 15 to May 15. During the promotion, planned to coincide with the April 15 opening of Eagle’s open space trails, participating business will hold special events such as a bicycle scavenger hunt and bicycle pub crawl.

As One Eagle grows, members have discussed how to organize the group. One plan is to have a board of directors that includes representatives from each of the town’s commercial areas as well as a member of the Eagle Town Board and a staff member from the town of Eagle. From there, the proposal suggests several subcommittees for regional events, national events, marketing, finance, membership, business development, volunteer coordination and valleywide cooperation.

Interestingly, as One Eagle contemplates its structure, various similar reorganization ideas have been floated for the Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Cochrane, the former executive director of the Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce, has floated the idea of a whole new beast ” a reorganized chamber that would act as an umbrella organization for more community-centered business associations based in Eagle, Gypsum and Edwards.

Cochrane argues that there are logistical reasons to maintain the existing chamber ” particularly because it has federal tax designation that enables it to disperse government grants. At the same time, he also notes that the needs of separate communities have already spurred marketing groups specific to Eagle and Gypsum. Cochrane believes that the reorganized chamber would help those efforts and still provide needed collaboration between the communities.

“What I wanted to avoid was to have islands up and down the valley not communicating with one another,” he said.

Under Cochrane’s proposal, the new chamber board would have 14 members ” four each from the respective Eagle and Gypsum business associations, three from unincorporated areas of Eagle County, and one non-voting member from the towns of Eagle and Gypsum and Eagle County.

His reorganization idea has drawn both support and questions among business leaders. Some have applauded the idea, saying it represents an important movement in breaking down barriers between communities. Others questioned whether the organization would prove unwieldy in practical operation.

“My opinion is the chamber doesn’t know what it is going to become,” says Doug Seabury. “But that doesn’t mean One Eagle can’t move forward.”

“This is not a competition. This is not that we are trying to take down the chamber,” adds Erin Seabury. “We are just trying to bring Eagle people together during tough times.”

That forward movement includes e-mail notices, web pages, newspaper ads and radio blurbs. The united message is summed up in the Facebook address listed by One Eagle member Liz Spetnagle ” “Eagle, Colorado ” Good times all the time.”

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