Vail Daily column: Economic development in Eagle County
The Vail Valley Partnership has long been involved and actively engaged in promoting our community as a tourism destination, helping to drive destination visitation via our group, meeting and special event recruiting efforts and offering robust business-to-business resources and event opportunities.
While tourism promotion and business resources remain a primary focus of our efforts, we are also focusing efforts on bringing industries together and serving as a bridge between government and the business community throughout the valley, while simultaneously connecting regional and state level economic development efforts to our local community.
Specifically, we have focused efforts in 2013 on increasing our local and regional collaboration related to economic development. The general purpose of a dedicated economic development effort is to positively influence economic change — and includes metrics such as wealth generation, economic diversification, job growth and building the local tax base.
Countywide efforts in the economic development realm date back to 2005 with the creation of the Economic Council of Eagle County. This coalition of private and public partners focused on gathering and analyzing economic data and acting on pressing needs in the county. Efforts in these early years were targeted toward keeping up with growth and infrastructure demands.
In January 2012, the Vail Valley Partnership consolidated the traditional roles of the Economic Council of Eagle County and concentrated its efforts toward creating a more proactive approach to economic development. These efforts include: handling general economic development inquires and promotions; facilitating and participating in greatly expanded state, regional and local collaborative efforts; conducting economic research to inform data-driven decision making; and facilitating related community program efforts such as the health and wellness initiative and the Economic Development Leadership Council.
Earlier this year, we solicited community participation in the Economic Development Leadership Council to help develop and define Eagle County’s economic development efforts moving forward. The result is a comprehensive Economic Development Strategic Plan.
The Economic Development Strategic Plan being completed is a synthesis of more than six months of community input from the Economic Development Leadership Council (a volunteer task force consisting of business owners and representatives from throughout the valley), interviews with business owners and stakeholders from around the region, and feedback from engaged community members. It is influenced by an honest appraisal of Eagle County’s economic strengths and weaknesses and a careful evaluation of the opportunities and challenges that are ahead.
Vulnerabilities of tourism
The Great Recession, which began in December of 2007, brought to light the vulnerabilities that exist in our tourism-dependent economy. It’s clear that tourism is important and we should build on this strength. However, this period has been a stark reminder of the need for local actors to take charge of our economic fortunes through sustained efforts to increase economic diversification, grow and retain jobs, build the local tax base and generate wealth while building on our current strengths.
The city of Detroit serves as a cautionary tale of a community that let its innovative spirit and population slip away over time, even though it was once one of the most robust centers of innovation in the United States. Innovation must be maintained and encouraged locally in order to survive. We should all celebrate Eagle County’s success, led during the past 50 years by Vail’s rise as a world-renowned mountain resort destination. But, we should also reaffirm our commitment to strategic community endeavors that will positively influence economic change and increase the likelihood that Eagle County’s next 50 years will be just as bright.
Economic development is everyone’s business because quality jobs provide us with much more than our basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. Gainful employment also represents our health care, our children’s education and our retirement. A good job is the basis for quality of life. Communities that proactively build environments that are supportive of their local employers, attractive to new ones and are encouraging of entrepreneurs are better positioned to maintain innovation and solidify economic resilience than communities that don’t.
The continuing viability of any local economy depends upon thoughtful long-term planning and practical approaches to economic development. With this in mind, stay tuned to this column during the next few weeks as we will outline the specific goals, objectives and performance measurements included in the economic development plan.
Chris Romer is the president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.