Menconi: Eagle Co. must help working families |

Menconi: Eagle Co. must help working families

Arn Menconi
Vail, CO Colorado

According to the International Economic Development Council:

“There is no single, widely accepted definition of economic development. However, there is considerable agreement that the main goal of economic development is improving the economic well-being of a community through efforts focused on job development and quality of life improvement.”

In the last two years, five major reports have zeroed in on issues and solutions for Eagle County’s elected officials to implement. The first three reports fall under growth management. They are the Urban Land Institute’s Affordable Housing Study, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Second Home Study and the county’s Quality of Place Study.

Each of these reports demonstrates that second home-development and not having a regional growth management plan are having long-term negative effects on our quality of life, environment, middle class, economy and infrastructure.

Once enhancing our economic prosperity, second-home development is now disproportionately creating lower-paying jobs, escalating land and home prices, and squeezing out our working-class families.

To embrace and nurture successful families and grow our economy, priorities for managed growth, diverse and affordable housing and transportation-oriented development need to happen quickly. This involves modeling population effects on infrastructure, incentives for development that builds affordable housing,

multi-jurisdictional planning, and finding private-public partnerships to create a better balanced and diverse community.

When I helped to found the Eagle County Economic Council, now in its four year, the vision was to think 10 to 20 years out, manage the job-to-housing ratio, diversify the economy, enhance human potential, and make sure housing, health care and education are seen as priorities to a healthy economy.

The world is not flat, and our valley’s community is not one-dimensional. It is a system of international tourism, multiple jurisdictions and people living, working and playing throughout the area. Therefore, without significant regional planning efforts, we will continue to exacerbate the problems, not represent the citizens and leave future generations to fix the situation.

We now have several collaborative tools in the county to work on regional solutions to these challenges: the Mayors/ Town Managers/Commissioners Council, a Regional Transportation Committee, Economic Council, and a Housing Action Team. Our county continues to incorporate the recommendations of these reports and accelerate benefits for our community.

We, in cooperation with others, are working to enact some simple solutions such as:

– The county and towns committing to developing deed-restricted housing in the next three years to make up for the 3,400 unit short fall.

– The beginnings of a multi-jurisdictional master plan that address where to put transit-oriented development, buffers of open space, and commercial development.

– The county, towns, business and non-profit community understanding the severity of the future employee shortage and what solutions to put in place.

Growth management and economic modeling are complex issues, but recent efforts over the last few years are starting to come together.

The other two studies involve social capital and social justice. They are the Community Health Report, and the Early Childhood Assessment and Bright Start Council.

These two major studies are the result of two of the largest collaborations of leaders and specialists in the field in our community. They have laid out priorities and goals that make policymakers jobs that much easier.

This last year, we expanded early childhood resources to provide greater opportunities for parents and school readiness. It came with great controversy, but even today we hear presidential candidates from both parties talk about the need for advancement in this area. Thankfully, we listened to the specialists and are bringing improvement to this issue in Eagle County.

One area that we need to apply greater focus is health care. Our country’s and county’s health care problems are a top concern. The No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in America is due to medical bills. Alarmingly, over 13,000 of Eagle County’s 45,000 residents are not insured. Businesses with less than 50 employees are stressed to provide adequate health care. It costs an average family of four over $1,200 dollars per month for health insurance.

Over the next several months, we will begin implementing collaborations that bring needed solutions and I will be writing more on it.

All of these reports have one underlying theme to me: that working class families are being squeezed and without continued and effective action in affordable housing, healthcare, transportation planning and education, our economy will suffer. I have great optimism that local elected officials are working more collaboratively than ever for the people of Eagle County.

Arn Menconi is an Eagle County Commissioner,

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