Eagle County commissioner candidates mull economic diversification
EAGLE COUNTY — This week, we pose the following question to the candidates for the Eagle County Board of Commissioners: What can the county commissioners do to drive economic diversification? Here are their answers:
Courtney Holm, Republican, District 2
The commissioners are in a unique position to drive economic diversification with proactivity. Growth of the economy is by luck or from the intentional, coordinated efforts designed to attract or develop alternative employment options for local residents and to help emerging businesses grow. Coordinated efforts are needed locally (including input and participation of unincorporated parts of the county), regionally and from the private sector to mobilize diversification. Eagle County does not currently record jobs created or lost which is a critical indicator to economic health of the county. In the past few months, several businesses closed, some that had been here for decades.
Business friendly policies are instrumental in maintaining and creating jobs in the community, including incentives for entrepreneurs that begin businesses here to keep controlling operations local. Programs and policies that form a business incubator to get to the successful phase faster are helpful. Technological advances allow the ability to attract business from remote places that may not require a physical location; the possibilities are endless, but there needs to be outreach to attract these businesses. Stepping outside the county and investigating the services that would serve our people, including reaching out to businesses at trade shows to recruit businesses, coordinating efforts with state government to locate useful services here or bring funding, or advocating to win the attention of a business looking for expanded locations.
Using the assets that we have to grow, including the development of CMC into a larger destination school, mountain-bike trails to attract tourism and medical tourism to develop those basics into increased sustainable economic contributors. Increasing the viability of the airport is also a strong factor in stimulating the economy both from a perspective of tourism, but also to aid and facilitate business and locals with ease of accessibility.
Kathy Chandler-Henry, Democrat, District 2
Economic vitality is one of the five strategic priorities of the commissioners. We work hand-in-hand with the Economic Council through the Vail Valley Partnership to develop and implement economic development programs. The current economic development plan calls for retention and expansion of existing businesses as the first call to action; the county is just now starting to rebound from the tremendous loss of construction and trades jobs that accompanied the recent recession. We must build on our assets when we attract new businesses — reminding people that this is not only a great place to vacation, but a great place to work. That means we need a business-friendly environment, we need a strong airport with frequent and reliable flights and we need a solution to the crisis in health care costs. Economic vitality doesn’t just depend on attracting businesses, it also depends on a strong and vibrant workforce. That means we have to pay attention to housing, childcare and worker training. I believe the county should continually review and improve development and land use regulations to assure they meet our community’s desires. We must think creatively about how to protect our precious land and water resources while strengthening our economy. The county’s internal Economic Development team works on making government innovative, resourceful and responsive. Thriving businesses that are a good fit with our mountain environment and lifestyle can provide good jobs with wages that allow families to prosper. One of the most important roles of a commissioner is to understand and promote the regional nature of our economy — from Dotsero and Gypsum to Vail and Red Cliff in the Eagle River Valley, and from Glenwood Springs to El Jebel/Basalt to Aspen in the Roaring Fork Valley. We’re all connected — people, towns, businesses, the county, and our social and economic infrastructure.
Jeanne McQueeney, Democrat, District 3
The Eagle County Economic Council has developed an economic development plan which focuses on two primary goals, the retention and expansion of current business and the recruitment of new business. This council is made up of a wide range of stakeholders including residents, business and community leaders, town and municipality’s leaders, and county government. As the council builds out its strategic plan we will be assured the ideas are well vetted and ready for implementation.
Attracting new businesses needs to focus on our leading sectors of health and wellness, and recreation and tourism. Focus on these sectors helps to guarantee that businesses we attract are the “right fit” for Eagle County. We want to assure that the businesses that we attract are able to pay a living wage to their employees.
Health care jobs pay higher than average wages in Eagle County. With very low unemployment there is a high demand for these skilled workers. Health care providers in Eagle County are well respected and sought out nationally and internationally. With the addition of the Federally Qualified Health Care Center and the Senior Care Facility opportunities in health care will continue to grow in to the future.
Attracting small business “lone eagles” who can comfortably work from any location can be achieved with improvements to community infrastructure including reliable transportation from our airport and wireless connectivity throughout the county.
In growing our economy we must always be mindful of why people choose to move here, the quality of life, and to that end we must work diligently to protect our natural resources. Clean air, clean water and beautiful blue skies must be protected not only to attract people to do business here, but to stay here. Our community must be welcoming to young professionals who want to build both a career and a family.
Dick Mayne, Republican, District 3
Certainly diversification plays a part in the pursuit of such industries as medical, wellness, physical fitness and other areas. These things should be looked at as we work to create public-private partnerships through efforts of chambers of commerce, local town governments and businesses. The county can help these organizations to produce studies that show us how and where to look for jobs and provide us with a means of showcasing the assets of Eagle County. The Vail Valley Partnership is working on this now and the county should join this effort. Together we can promote the advantages of Eagle County and create a plan to bring appropriate businesses here.
The county needs to work closely with municipalities to help drive key businesses and industries to city limits where infrastructure is already in place. I look forward to meeting with each of the communities to learn more about what kind of jobs they are seeking and what kind of new jobs they are hoping to bring to their areas. As a commissioner, I will work to create strong partnerships with the towns and help them to build their own economies.
Besides diversification we need to recognize that most of the recreational component of this county has already been established. Creating summer recreational enhancements of trails, river corridor access and other outdoor amenities are summer job creators that become counterparts to our better-established winter recreational components. If we can provide jobs during the summer, in addition to construction, that create continuing summer employment, then we have gone a long way toward making a sustainable summer job market that complements and enhances our established winter job market.
Let’s work together as the county, chamber partnerships, local communities, businesses and individuals to create county-wide opportunities that will give us year-round employment and good paying jobs.