Group wants better jobs, economy |

Group wants better jobs, economy

Cliff Thompson

While having overqualified help may seem quaint and endearing, it’s not a situation that helps spread smiles or prosperity to Eagle County residents.

Worse yet, the opportunity to land the few available high-paying jobs, may actually be decreasing. That means many residents will continue working multiple jobs to build or maintain their version of the American Dream.

What’s to be done?

For a trio of county residents, it’s time to start changing the local economy so prosperity is easier to achieve.

If that sounds lofty, or even utopian, it may be, but you need to start some place, they say. They’re calling the venture the Vail Valley Economic Council.

“There’s more underemployement in Eagle County than any place in the world.,” says business and marketing consultant Ross Boyle, who is part of the team working to launch the economic development effort.

“We can sit back and take what comes or we can actively shape the future,” says Don Cohen, another organizer of the Vail Valley Economic Council.

Cohen says the idea for the organization sprang from Colorado Mountain College’s course, “Shaping the Future of the Eagle Valley.”

Cohen was part of a team that helped bring Denver a new airport and the Colorado Rockies. Now retired, he joined Boyle and County Commissioner Arn Menconi, a presenter in “Shaping the Future,” to form the Vail Valley Economic Development Council.

The group’s aim is to enhance the opportunity for residents to be properly employed, by creating a diversified economy with more, better-paying jobs. At the same time there a need to maintain a balance between the needs of the economy and quality of life here, they say.

To do that they will have to create an environment where businesses want to relocate or expand to this market. That means making sure the proper communications equipment, transportation and workforce is in place.

Part of that is already here.

Economy in transition

They’re launching their venture in uncertain economic waters. Eagle County is midst of a major transition. New construction, which for nearly a decade drove the local economic engines, has declined sharply. That change has caused many of the high-paying construction-related jobs to evaporate, leaving lower-paying service related jobs.

“I compare the economy here to an adolescent who has undergone a growth spurt,” Menconi says. “What are we going to do next?”

That change is reflected in part by the declining sales tax collections in Vail, Avon and elsewhere in the county. That’s partially driven by national economic trends, but it also reflect local trends as well.

Economist Ford Frick, who consults for many resort town in the northern Rocky Mountains, and owns a home in East Vail, says Eagle County isn’t alone in facing a challenging future.

“During the last 12 years the economy has pretty much managed itself,” he says. “Now it’s slowing down and everyone’s trying to figure it out.”

The trio wants the economic council to help to provide what they call “non-valley-dependant jobs” by utilizing technology and what resources the county already has in place. The county’s primary asset is a tourism economy. That coupled with its mountain lifestyle and development of new businesses will help, they say.

Working from within

Boyle says the majority of the focus of the council will be on enhancing existing businesses.

“You face either a stagnating economy or you can diversify to promote economic opportunity,” Boyle says.

“Economic development is not just attracting business,” he says. “it’s 60 to 70 percent helping existing businesses grow.”

Doing that will require a concerted effort that is part promotion, part developing the proper infrastructure and development of a consensus of what the vision for the future needs to be.

Cohen says he feels some early success could be achieved by attracting a new convention to town or helping create an office campus for an educational consulting business or for a high-performance, high-altitude sports conditions center.

They have been honing the elements of their proposal over the past two months, with presentations to business leaders and others, prior to making formal funding requests.

Getting started

The organization hopes to launch its efforts in April using business and public funding sources. Initial funding request will range from $80,000 to up to $200,000 depending on whether contracted help is used or not.

Cohen says he’s not looking for a full time job, and coincidentally, isn’t running for office either. He is interested in putting his energy into getting the council operating.

It’s not the first time there has been an economic development effort in Eagle County. The last occurred in the late 1980s as the county was emerging from the dregs of the recession of the early 1980s.

That economic development effort lasted two years, falling victim perhaps, to the beginning of a roaring real estate development boom that ended in 2000 when much of the slopeside resort property achieved buildout.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or

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