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‘Nobody’s going to feel sorry for Vail’

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

I spent some time at Thursday’s Vail Valley Business Forum expecting to get a story, but came back with some random thoughts.

The problem, you see, was that the topics of conversation were too far-ranging for just one story. It was a diverse panel, with an economist, a long-time resort observer, a travel company executive, a building expert and our valley’s own Harry Frampton.

TV journalist Jane Wells had a long list of good questions that covered topics from green building to employee housing to monorails. It was interesting, engaging stuff, and if next year’s Vail Valley Partnership-sponsored forum is this good, your money will be well spent on a ticket.



Here’s what this late-arriving observer got out of the morning of conversation:

– “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for Vail.”



I always enjoy listening to Myles Rademan’s ideas about the resort industry. He’s been in the business a long time, and is currently the public affairs director for Park City, Utah, as well as a corporate consultant.

One of the things he talked about is the suspicion with which tourism is viewed by a lot of people in Utah. In a state founded on thrift and industry, the pursuit of leisure is somewhat suspect, although that attitude is changing.

Because of that somewhat skunk-eyed view of tourism, Rademan has come to the conclusion that no one in Utah is going to feel sorry for the enclave of fun that is Park City.



The same is true of Vail, he said. When locals talk about lobbying Congress for things like buried highways, or Sunday afternoon bans on heavy truck traffic on Interstate 70, most don’t understand how that’s going to be viewed by the outside world ” usually with derision and hearty scoffing.

What that means is that Vail needs a partner, one that’s seen as an enclave of hearty, struggling mountain folks instead of a haven for self-obsessed zillionaires. If Vail and other resort towns could get Georgetown, or, better yet, Silver Plume, to be our proxy in the drive to fix I-70 congestion, we might get a better reception.

– We need to get used to our contradictions.

Without immigrant labor, our resorts would run out of employees. And we need to help our immigrants.

This one gets people upset, so it’s a good thing Rademan can go back to Park City.

But the fact of the matter is that college ski bums who take a semester or two off to work in the resorts are a dwindling breed. Between that and the fact there’s more year ’round work than there was even 15 years ago, we have more a lot more immigrants than we used to.

State laws passed in 2006 have caused a lot of illegal immigrants to leave, but there are still plenty here. A lot of those immigrants have kids in our schools. Many lack health insurance.

Providing housing, education and health care for immigrant workers is full-on socialism, Rademan said, and he’s right. It’s also widely viewed as un-American, and that’s right, too.

But if our resorts are going to survive, we need to accept those contradictions.

– Buying a home isn’t always the best idea.

Richard Wobbekind is an economist at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Living in that town, he’s familiar with housing shortages and deed restrictions.

While the Vail Valley is still struggling to provide more deed-restricted for-sale units or affordable rental housing for people, Wobbekind said we need to think hard about what the right mix is for those units.

Most folks want to own their homes, Wobbekind said, but a lot of buyers should be renting instead.

A lot of people buy homes with appreciation caps, then can’t earn enough equity to buy their next home. That keeps them stuck in what are supposed to be starter homes, and keeps other first-time buyers out of the units.

A lot of this is information we don’t want to hear. But sometimes it’s good to have people come in from outside the valley to tell us anyway. In fact, I’d say we could use more straight talk, more often, from people who don’t have a stake in our future.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller writes about valley business every Saturday. Reach him at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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