Role in economy a conflict for local government, candidates say |

Role in economy a conflict for local government, candidates say

Veronica Whitney

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of four stories in which the candidates for Eagle County commissioner answer questions on the major issues.

The three candidates for the western Eagle County commissioner’s seat are Laurie Bower, an unaffiliated candidate; Gerry Sandberg, a Democrat; and incumbent Commissioner Tom Stone, a Republican.

Bower, 36, of Gypsum, recently resigned as a housing planner with Eagle County. She is a member of the Colorado State Housing Board. Sandberg, 59, has been an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office in the Fifth Judicial District for 17 years. He has served as a school board member with the Eagle County Board of Education for seven years.

Stone, 49, a real estate broker, was elected to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners in 1998. He served as chairman of the Board in 2000 and 2001. He serves on several boards and committees and represents Eagle County on the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, a regional political organization

Vail Daily: With the persisting economic downturn, what would you do to protect small businesses in the county?

Gerry Sandberg: “Unfortunately, a downturn in the economy is only one of the hurdles facing small businesses in the county. The other is the introduction of big boxes (The Home Depot and Wal-Mart Supercenter).

“Currently the Avon area is the recipient of the new big boxes but the western end of the county has been exploring similar options.

“I had the opportunity to attend the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau’s Avon presentation as to what small businesses could do to combat the effects the big boxes would have on their businesses. Bottom line seemed to be that in order to survive they would have to offer what the big boxes didn’t, for example, better service and specialized items – meaning being able to buy one or two screws rather than a whole box. Aside from this, marketing needs to target “buy local” and additionally promote air travel to the county coupled with convention traffic.

“One obvious way to bring in more customers to local businesses is to keep more people in the valley full time –meaning, make sure they can afford housing here in the valley.

“There will be no “one answer fits all’ for small businesses; rather it will take a coordinated effort with business leaders, convention and tourism leaders and municipal and county officials all working together.”

Laurie Bower: “We can work with the state and federal government to enact legislation that would bring down health insurance and other expenses incurred by small businesses. We can also not approve large retail establishments that directly complete with them. In addition, Eagle County could offer incentives and/or tax reductions to businesses who currently provide housing programs for their workers or other programs which benefit the community.

“I would also like to see a “buy local’ campaign in which we encourage our residents to purchase goods from our local businesses whenever possible. Shopping in Denver or Grand Junction, for example, does not necessarily cost a person less in the long run – especially when you figure in the travel time and auto expenses.”

Tom Stone: “Our current efforts to bring in summer air service connecting to major hubs is an example of what can be done to support our county businesses. Over time we can continue to attract more visitors on a year round basis.

“Secondly, we should avoid new regulations that add financial burdens on our businesses. However, there are no quick fixes to our local economy. National decisions and events largely dictate what will happen locally. Whether it is the stock market, the weather or terrorist attacks, we all share in the good times as well as the bad in our global economy.

“Small businesses do have the advantage of being able to respond to changing conditions much more quickly than our larger companies. They may need to find new market niches, or they may need to tighten up their fiscal belts for a while. Many times the best thing that government can do is to simply not interfere.”

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