Strengthening Vail Valley businesses
EAGLE COUNTY Hollis Dempsey thinks the valley needs an organization that will help sell the area as a place to move for a career. Rob LeVine is still looking for more heads in his lodges beds.Michael Kurzs job is to make them both happy.Kurz is the relatively new president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, a valley-wide business group that started life as Vails reservations agency. Over the years, the Partnership has had an alphabet soup of names and has gradually expanded its scope.But as the scope expanded, the groups mission may have become muddy, Kurz said.I think over the years we were trying to be all things to all people, he said.Glenn Davis of Alpine Bank in Avon is chairman of the partnerships board of directors. He likened the group in the past few years to a ship navigating in a fog.The partnership has been trying to find a way to provide value and benefits to members, Davis said. They never knew quite where they needed to be.But while groups focus may have gotten fuzzy, the mission remained: making local businesses stronger. Its how that job is done thats changing. Relying on reservationsReservations remains the partnerships core business. To boost that part of the operation, the organization has expanded its group sales team from two to four people. Jessica Stevens only job is selling the valley to sports groups looking for a place for tournaments.That business benefits the valley really quickly, Kurz said.Its the sort of business that LeVine, general manager of the Antlers in Vail, loves to see. My bias, of course, is to expand the tourism business, he said. Vitality, sustainabilityDempsey is co-owner of Human Resources Plus in Eagle, a company thats job is to handle payroll and the other roles of a personnel department for other companies. Her bias is more toward the current partnership mantra of Vail 365, meaning a place with no off-seasons and a thriving business environment.The people in the tourism business have done a good job selling the valley, Dempsey said. But what about selling this as a place to have a career, or start a business? If theyre focusing on that, thats a good thing.Kurz said the partnership is focusing on what he calls vitality and sustainability. That means the group is getting involved in the valleys politics on the subjects of finding people to work here and making sure they have places to live and ways to get to and from their jobs.Thats going to be a central topic of a July 24 business forum at the Cascade Resort & Spa in Vail, Kurz said. Were going to be talking about all of those things, he said. People coming to the valley also need year round work, Kurz said. Thats sustainability, he said, and it will become more important as more businesses in the valley arent based on the summer and winter resort seasons.Traditional rolesThose seasons are still critical to the valleys economy.Weve got to find a way to bring business more business, Kurz said. We need to make sure we can keep businesses going in low snow years.The old role of building business relationships is where the partnerships services remain important, Kurz said. Those service range from discounts on credit card processing services to educational presentations from consultants and authors to monthly get-togethers for members.Do those services make membership worth the money, though?Some days more than others, Dempsey said. I think the more you use whats available the more you get out of it.I expect (the partnership) to market itself more, though, Dempsey added. Theyre doing a better job of that, but you still have to put a little into it to get a little out.And, while Kurz is trumpeting a new direction for the partnership, LeVine isnt so sure.They may call it a new focus, but I think its more nuance, he said. Its the same kind of purpose.