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Low-profile local now leads Vail Partnership

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyMichael Kurz
ALL |

AVON, Colorado ” Michael Kurz knows Vail and the valley. But he was still a kind of surprise candidate when he applied for the top job at the Vail Valley Partnership.

“Michael kind of came out of the woodwork,” said Partnership board member Greg Repetti. “But he really understands what it’s like to do business in a ski town.”

Kurz was already making a living as a “brand-development” specialist when he moved his company to Vail several years ago. Since then, the Chicago native has done most of his work for out-of-town clients but quietly became familiar with the community. He now holds a seat on the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission.

Kurz has spent nearly 30 years of his adult life in Colorado, but he was attracted to the state as a boy. He had grandparents living around Delta, and he vowed early that one day he’d live here.

A trip to Denver for a 1979 job interview confirmed that feeling.

“We came out in October and I fell in love with the place,” he said.

His time in Denver allowed Kurz to make and hone the professional contacts he needed to go out on his own and, later, move to Vail.

So what does a “brand developer” do, anyway?

As Kurz explains it, brand developers work with advertising, pricing and ways to attract eyes and ears to products and companies. If done right, a company will end up with something like Morton Salt or Betty Crocker, brands that virtually every American knows about. And that identity shows up on a company’s bottom line.

Vail as a brand

Kurz said he’s still getting to know his new job as Partnership president, but his plan is to bring his experience with brand development to the business group and its roughly 800 members.

“Brand development facilitates enterprise,” Kurz said. “We need to consistently present our selling points to promote business vitality.”

That’s the sort of talk that sold board member Tony O’Rourke that Kurz was the right person to lead the Partnership.

“He’s really the ideal fit at a critical time for this organization,” O’Rourke said. “It’s time for us to become more relevant to our members.”

In O’Rourke’s mind, that means the Partnership needs to focus on a few things, and do them very well.

“We don’t want to be a mile wide and an inch deep,” O’Rourke said.

Buzz’s to the Ritz

Even if the Partnership is successful in narrowing its focus, the group’s membership is wildly diverse, from Vail Resorts to one-person home businesses.

“We want to be a closer and more intelligent ally at all those levels, from Buzz’s (Boards in Vail) to the Ritz-Carlton,” Kurz said.

How does that happen? With only a few weeks on the job, Kurz acknowledged he doesn’t have a rock-solid game plan just yet.

Meanwhile, he’s meeting members and getting to know the staff.

One program that keeps coming up is opening a Small Business Development Center, a program run by the Colorado Office of Economic Development. Plans have been bubbling for about a year to open a center at the Partnership’s office in Avon’s Traer Creek Plaza, but haven’t yet come together.

“That stalled out for a while,” Kurz said. “We’re going to try to do it. I’d love to have one here.”

Another focus the Partnership is almost certain to take is building business during spring and fall, times Kurz called “value seasons.”

But if the Vail Valley’s economy grows, so will its need for people to work in offices and shops. The Partnership has a role to play in trying to create more housing for those people, Kurz said.

“Businesses are seeing that housing is essential for them,” he said. “There are so many different levels of employees, but we need to encourage residential development in places where housing is more affordable.”

Throw in running the valley’s central reservations service with the business-related work, and running the Vail Valley Partnership turns into a good-sized job.

Kurz knows it, and said he’s relying on what he called an “excellent” staff to make things work.

But O’Rourke said the staff will have a strong leader.

“One of the other finalists for the job called me last week and told me, ‘You made the right choice,'” O’Rourke said. “You don’t hear that very often.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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