Romer: Community growth is an opportunity, not a threat
Growth is a good problem to have, as the saying goes. But, for some communities, it can be a concept that causes friction and resentment — particularly when residents perceive it as not benefiting society at large.
Eagle County is not alone in this. The challenges created by such misunderstandings are also on display in the Cayman Islands, where 21,000 indigenous Caymanians often find themselves in direct competition with the 39,000 foreign nationals who supply much-needed manpower to the island nation’s $3.2 billion economy.
“Because our economy is growing at such a fast pace, we now have a situation where more than 50% of our workforce is held by foreign nationals,” said Wil Pineau, CEO at the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce. “Locals sometimes feel as though they’re not getting the direct benefit of that growth, and as a result, they’re feeling a bit threatened by it.”
Sound familiar? A common refrain is often heard locally when discussions are held regarding local housing developments, the cost of health care, or state transportation or school funding challenges. While we don’t have 50% of our workforce held by foreign nationals like the Cayman Islands, we do have stresses caused by growth and we’re equally threatened. But we are far from full, and our ongoing success is dependent on figuring out ways to accommodate our future growth.
The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Colorado is on track to add 50,700 jobs in 2019. Colorado was one of six states where the unemployment rate declined. The seasonally-adjusted rate fell from 3.2% to 3.1%.
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The Colorado economy is not operating efficiently because the unemployment rate is too low and there are not enough qualified workers to fill jobs in many sectors across Eagle County and Colorado. That job growth leads to population growth, and Eagle County is forecast to reach almost 70,000 residents by 2030 and 94,000 by 2050.
Urban policy reporter Emily Badger writes in the Washington Post that the notion that a place is “full” is more about perception than reality: “We can always make choices to make more room, to build taller and denser, to upgrade schools and rethink roads to let more people in. That we don’t isn’t a limitation of physics. It’s a matter of politics disguised as physics.”
Basalt Town Council member and Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Ski Company Auden Schendler writes, “Mountain and resort communities are increasingly occupied by older, wealthier people. Peace and quiet is what they prefer. But do these residents only care about numbers, and not community character? The places we live, absent families, young people, commerce and foot traffic, can’t really be described as towns, much less communities.”
Community growth strategist Doug Griffiths sums up the need to embrace growth by sharing, “Successful communities are not afraid to take risks and embrace change. By being creative and taking on a ‘can do’ attitude, they find that one success leads to another and another. If you like the status quo and have no stomach for risk-taking — you’ll be in a good leadership position to keep your community away from all chances of being successful.”
Community growth is not a bad thing; from the Cayman Islands to Colorado, successful communities need to find ways to support growth and grow community in order to thrive and remain vibrant. Eagle County’s continued vibrancy and success depends on it.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.