Economic diversity dominates State of the Valley discussion as towns, county look to move beyond tourism | VailDaily.com

Economic diversity dominates State of the Valley discussion as towns, county look to move beyond tourism

The Vail Symposium and Vail Valley Partnership hosted a panel discussion with town and county managers. Economic diversity dominated the discussion. From left are: Greg clifton, Vail; Jeff Shroll, Eagle County; Jery Reitmann, Gypsum; Scott Wright, Avon; Barb Smith, Red Cliff; Brandy Reitter, Eagle, Michelle Mateer, Minturn.

EDWARDS — With thousands of housing units either approved or in the pipeline up and down the Vail Valley, housing took a backseat to economic development and diversity during a panel discussion Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards.

The Vail Symposium, the Vail Valley Partnership and CMC hosted a panel of town and county managers to discuss what's on the local radar.

Across the range of issues, one thread was common.

"The issues we'll discuss today cannot be solved by one of us. It will take collaboration," Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll said.

Housing still part of the equation

Housing was repeatedly acknowledged as part of the equation (Eagle and Gypsum each have 2,000 units either approved or in their approval pipeline, their town managers said), but economic development and diversity, in addition to outdoor recreation and tourism, carried most of the discussion.

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Vail and Beaver Creek mountains are mature businesses in the Vail Resorts portfolio. Focus could shift as the ski company looks for other ways to increase its business, Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann said.

"We need to be cognizant of that," Reitmann said.

The region has several niche manufacturers that could be persuaded to stick around as they grow, if they had had a place that could accommodate them, Rietmann said.

However, the county's only "opportunity zone" is in Avon, and that's based on housing, Rietmann said.

Opportunity zones were part of the 2017 federal tax reform package. They're designed to address the lack of economic growth in many communities.

They create federal tax incentives for investment in low-income areas, hopefully pushing prosperity into areas that have seen little of it the past few years. Opportunity zones also address workforce and affordable housing in areas with escalating prices, according to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Speaking of workforce housing, 66 percent of the valley's businesses are looking for employees and 71 percent plan to expand, said Chris Romer, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership. Among the problems those businesses face is finding somewhere to put those people, Romer said.

Tourism is still tops

Tourism, though, is still the tail that wags the dog in the Vail Valley, and transportation is the key to bringing visitors to the area.

Airports are — still — a hole in the sky through which money falls. The Eagle County Regional Airport's annual economic impact hovers around $1 billion, says the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The local airport's passenger numbers are up 25 percent in 2017 over the previous year, and are rising, Shroll said.

For now, the air alliance's main goal is to find a market that provides year-round flights to Eagle County, instead of dropping off during the shoulder seasons. They're also looking for a low-cost carrier to take people "somewhere warm," Shroll said.

Interstate 70 could become a more local and regional issue after a statewide transit funding proposal went down in flames, Vail Town Manager Greg Clifton said.

"With the defeat of Proposition 110, it is incumbent upon us to consider transportation funding and projects," Clifton said.

Colorado is being considered for the 2030 Winter Olympic, and Interstate 70 and other transportation corridors will be part of that discussion, Clifton said.

Broadband and River parks

Red Cliff Town Manager Barb Smith touted the town's recent broadband victories, a collaboration of local, state and federal agencies.

"When you have a town of 300 people, it's hard to bring in outside companies. They don't see a profit in it," Smith said.

Eagle's Brandy Reiter pointed to the town's $7 million river park under construction. It's being funded by a voter-approved sales tax and is scheduled for completion next June.

Eagle is also spending $27 million to build another water treatment plant. They need it if Eagle is to continue to grow, Reiter said.

Eagle's sales taxes are up about 8 percent over last year. Gypsum's are up 5.64 percent and Avon's are up 5.5 percent, their town managers said.

As part of Gypsum's commercial development plan, the town offers commercial development grants, Reitmann said. Gypsum is also building an electric generating plant near its water treatment plant. It'll generate enough power for 65 homes.

The good folks of Minturn locked themselves in a room and did not come out until they had a strategic plan — their first in 114 years, said Michelle Mateer, Minturn town manager.

Minturn is eying the 13-acre U.S. Forest Service parcel near I-70 in Dowd Junction for possible commercial and workforce housing, Mateer said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.