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From Wall Street to Main Street

Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — From Frisco to Breckenridge, the news that Vail Resorts will trim its work force by cutting executive and management-level positions elicited a mixed response from local business owners and civic leaders. Some say the move was long overdue that VR has been carrying a few extra layers of administrative fat ever since the company was formed in a merger with Ralston Resorts. Running &quotlean and mean&quot will make the company stronger and benefit the community in the long run, some officials says.Acutely aware of VR’s status as the largest employer in the county, others say the layoffs may be a sign of things to come if the economy doesn’t perk up, and that the community will feel a ripple effect from any woes suffered by the ski company.&quotMy concern is that this is just the beginning. Other companies are on their third and fourth round of cuts,&quot says Jim Rodkey, owner of Rocky Mountain Coffee Roasters, a java emporium on Frisco’s Main Street. Formerly a corporate attorney for a telecommunications company, Rodkey says he’s seen both sides of the coin, handing out pink slips as a human resources executive and being downsized out of a job himself more than once.&quotActually, the politically correct term these days is rightsizing,&quot Rodkey says. &quotIt’s never fun, but it’s part of the territory. I think this is maybe the indication of things to come if things don’t pick up. This doesn’t bode well,&quot he says. Vail’s cost-cutting efforts reflect wider economic issues that could spell trouble for the resort industry, Rodkey says.County unemployment risingStatistics compiled at the Frisco Workforce Center, the local branch of the state employment office, mirror some of the gloomy state and national economic news. Unemployment figures have been creeping up, and the recent round of layoffs by Vail Resorts will add to that tally.For September, unemployment in Summit County stood at 3.4 percent, up from 2.3 percent in September 2001, says Travis Bennett, an employment specialist at the center. Bennett says Summit County’s workforce stood at 12,000 in September, with about 400 people unemployed.The change from last year is incremental, but Bennett says the change from two or three years ago is more dramatic. The big difference is the slowdown in construction he says, explaining that unemployment edged upward of 5 percent last spring as ski resorts closed.&quotThere just weren’t enough construction jobs to take up the slack like in the past,&quot Bennett says. &quotThe number of construction jobs dropped significantly last year and there was no rebound this year,&quot he adds.Breck mayor upbeatAs far as Breckenridge Mayor Sam Mamula is concerned, VR could be signaling its intent to focus on its core ski business. &quotIt’s probably an interpretation on my part, but I think this means VR is getting back to the basics. I think it’s positive for the company,&quot Mamula says of the layoffs and cost-cutting. &quotI think they’re going to focus on the ski business.&quotTo hear Mamula tell it, the Town of Breckenridge and the resort are currently engaged in a love-fest of sorts, where neither side can do wrong. Mamula is convinced the new alignment of executives will enhance the relationship between the town and the resort.&quotThe more layers of management there are between us and the top, the harder it is for us to be heard,&quot Mamula says. &quotInstead of being the poor stepchild, I think this will be the first time in Breckenridge’s history that we’ll have adult status in the corporation.&quotBreckenridge town council member Jim Lamb agrees that the town and the resort have strengthened their collaboration in recent years, but also acknowledges that there may always be some tension in the relationship.&quotThey’re the organization people love to hate, and they’re also the big economic engine,&quot says Lamb, a member of the Green Party. &quotThere’s always going to be that struggle between what’s going to be good for the community and what’s good for the stockholders. It’s like a dysfunctional marriage,&quot Lamb says.Institutional stability?At Keystone, business owner Don McCoy says he’s hoping for stability even as the resort sees leadership changes.&quotI’ve been up here since 1980,&quot says McCoy, who owns several retail shops in the Keystone area. &quotThere’s always a myriad of changes, but I’m hoping they maintain some continuity. They need to get input from the outgoing people. After the changeover from Ralston, it took a few years to get rolling,&quot McCoy explains. &quotChange is good, but I don’t want them to forget about everything that’s already been done. There’s also some really good management already in there, so I hope they listen to them.&quotCounty commissioner Tom Long says the shakeups have wider implications beyond the personal impacts felt by the individuals and families affected by the layoffs. &quotIt’s the cooling of the economy that we’re seeing and that we’re all going to experience. How deep will this thing go?&quot Long asks. &quotWe’ve never really seen the back-pedaling of the economy or land values here in Summit County. I’ve been amazed at how resilient the resort economy has been. We’ve been lucky.&quotLocal governments have been facing similar issues, says county commissioner Gary Lindstrom. &quotThe quickest way to cut costs, in business and in government, is personnel,&quot Lindstrom says. &quotIn the time I’ve been in the county, Keystone has had six or seven heads, and every time the change has been due to corporate changes.&quotReferring to the economic slowdown, Lindstrom concludes, &quotmaybe this will give the resorts a chance to re-evaluate and hopefully slow down a little bit as far as development.&quot


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