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Good start for economic council

Don Cohen

A year ago Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi asked me to consider heading up an economic development effort for the county.

He believed that one of the best ways to help shape a prosperous future for our county would be to bring together the public and private sectors, to help them better understand common issues, communicate more effectively, and start to proactively envision a future that balanced economic vitality, social well being, and environmental stewardship.

The terms of his offer: No salary. No funding. No staff. No awareness.

As a lifelong entrepreneur, that sounded like a reasonable challenge.

We gave the effort a name, the Vail Valley Economic Council. A lot of discussion surrounded the use of the “Vail” name even though this would be a broad-based Eagle County effort. It was ultimately decided that any external future public relations or marketing efforts would be well served by the high brand visibility of Vail name.

Studying other community economic development organizations across the country and combined with my experience in working on “eco-devo” projects on the Front Range, I worked through a half-dozen iterations of a business plan, assembled a PowerPoint presentation and, with Arn Menconi, presented to a variety of groups and individuals.

Instead of wasting a lot of time and money on organizational efforts, Frank Johnson and the executive board of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau allowed VVEC to be run as special program within their organization.

While a full scale economic development program could easily run $200,000-plus dollars a year, our first year start-up goal was much more modest.

With the help of funding partners that included Vail Resorts, Colorado Mountain News Media (the Vail Daily’s parent company), Vail Valley Jet Center, The Antlers at Vail, RA Nelson, and the town of Avon, about $20,000 was raised as start-up capital. This amount was matched by in-kind support by me and several other community members.

By mid-2003, our organizational efforts started to transition to more task oriented goals. Looking back over the past year I’m pleased with the progress that has been made in three areas: education, relationships and projects.

Improving community understanding of economic issues remains one of our top goals.

This fall I led the economic section of the “Shaping the Future of the Eagle Valley” advanced class at Colorado Mountain College. The class brought in local and state experts involved in various aspects of economic development. In a field trip to Denver we met with the top executives in economic development and toured the new redevelopment at Stapleton.

Additionally, I prepared a community economic briefing presentation that has been given to town councils, community service organizations and businesses throughout the county. (If your organization or company would like to view the 2004 economic briefing presentation, please send me an e-mail request.)

Finally, with the support of Don Rogers and the Vail Daily, this newspaper has provided a monthly opportunity to provide our community with new perspectives on economic development.

Building new relationships is perhaps one of the most important yet invisible components to a successful economic development effort. This past year VVEC has done a good job of getting on people’s radar.

I’ve re-established personal contacts with some of the top economic development leaders in the Denver area and continue to draw on their experience and guidance. They now have a new view of Eagle County as something more than just a ski destination.

We’re working closely with the Colorado State Office of Economic Development. VVEC now receives regular information on statewide and regional topics of interest which it passes on to local communities and interested parties.

In October, the state asked for our participation in an effort to attract a European biopharmaceutical company to western Colorado. While this opportunity would not directly affect Eagle County, our attendance added a clear value in terms of cultural and educational assets.

With this increased visibility, Eagle County will be asked to the dance more often and is starting to be seen as a sophisticated player in Western Slope economic development.

In the latter part of the year, VVEC brought together key leaders of education in the county for a discussion on how to start developing and attracting more education-based conferences. Beyond the obvious benefit of adding tourist dollars to our county economy, there’s the added plus of being able to expose local educators and citizens to national experts and new viewpoints.

What was remarkable was that this “mini-summit” included the top leaders and executives from the Eagle County School District, Colorado Mountain College, Vail Leadership Institute, Public Education Foundation, Vail Symposium, Vail Valley Convention and Tourism Bureau, and the Vail Valley Foundation.

Even with limited funding, VVEC has completed and is working on a variety of projects.

This summer we assisted a commercial Realtor team in preparing a presentation to the national outdoor retailer, Cabela’s. This included a great deal of data research, creating a multi-media presentation and briefing book, and trip to Cabela’s corporate headquarters.

While this effort may or may not prove to be successful in attracting a Cabela’s store to western Eagle County, it was highly instructive in showing communities the level of effort and sophistication that will be required to compete for future opportunities.

Another significant project that is under way is the development of a commercial property database. This will be a searchable database that can be used by Realtors, businesses and community members to get a much better feel of the inventory of commercial properties within Eagle County. Based on the county assessor’s database of nearly 2,500 properties, this database will provide details on each property, location, tenants and management.

Looking back, considering we started from scratch, 2003 was a very productive year. Looking ahead to VVEC’s efforts for 2004, we are planning several forums and initiatives around our local economy, inter-governmental cooperation, and new business development.

The Vail Valley Economic Council will stand ready to assist our towns, county, and private businesses as they work toward making Eagle County one of the best places to live in America.

Don Cohen is the executive director of the Vail Valley Economic Council and can be reached by e-mail at dcohen@vvec.org.


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