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Editorial: Build a stronger Vail Valley

Tamara Miller for the Editorial Board
Vail CO, Colorado

Longtimers around here often refer to the mid-1980s as the last time Vail’s economy took a significant hit.

At that time, the culprit was the devalued Mexican peso and the impact it had on the many Mexican second-home owners who vacationed in Vail.

We had a slump following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but other than that Vail has remained fairly well insulated from the trials and tribulations the rest of the country faces when the economy turns sluggish. We’re a growing community faced with challenges most other towns would love to have: a soaring real estate market, too many jobs that can’t be filled and a substantial amount of wealthy people who live and vacation here.

But there’s evidence that Vail won’t be able to escape this latest national downturn completely unscathed. The real estate market has slowed noticeably in the past few months; Eagle County had just 104 real-estate transactions in January, the fewest in 12 years.

For-sale homes ” even those under the $500,000 price tag and considered affordable by local standards ” are staying on the market for months instead of weeks.

First-time homebuyers are finding it more difficult to obtain financing for all those affordable homes we’ve been in a hurry to build. And even if home owners here aren’t losing money on our homes, plenty of people around the country are. Denver has seen some of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, and Denverites make up a large part of our tourist and second-home market up here.

It’s enough to cause some local residents to worry.

Last month, Vail resident Kent Logan urged the Vail Town Council to start preparing for financial difficulties ahead. And more than a few of the Eagle County Commissioners’ critics are issuing similar warnings for the entire county.

Eagle County shouldn’t wait for the financial gurus to declare that the country is in recession before preparing our local economy for the hit.

The good news is we’re a little better prepared now. The local chambers of commerce have made strides in trying to turn the Vail Valley into a year-round tourist destination.

Events like the Teva Mountain Games are bringing visitors to town in the so-called mud season months. Promoting our arts and culture events ” like the Vail Film Festival, the Vail International Dance Festival and the Bravo! music series ” gives tourists who don’t ski a reason to come here.

The more off-mountain attractions we can create the better we will be able to weather that other uncontrollable phenomenon ” a bad snow year.

But Eagle County needs to diversify in other ways. For too long we have survived on tourism and real estate alone.

It’s time our leaders and chambers look to bring other industries (and jobs) here. We should build on our already growing health care industry, a good source of well-paying jobs and yet another way to attract people to come here.

Light manufacturing ” how about a company that manufactures recreational equipment right in the heart of the Rocky Mountains? ” has a place here, too.

Lastly, while the Vail Valley isn’t in dire straights, a national downturn behooves our elected officials to spend wisely in the months ahead. Most homeowners were hit with a significant hike in property taxes this year, which should give local taxing districts the ability to build up those rainy day funds.

If given the choice, many homeowners would have preferred to have their local government learn to live on a streamlined budget. We all might have to, anyway.


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