Vail Daily column: Quality of life as an economic driver
The Economic Development Leadership Council, a volunteer group of citizens instrumental in developing the economic development plan, defined “success” as creating a place that cultivates entrepreneurs, offers “quality of career opportunities” in addition to “quality of life,” and creates opportunities that are attractive to all generations.
Below is a continuation of last week’s column with regards to the current state of the Eagle County economy and an overview of the local business climate. This information has informed the objectives and strategies recommended by the 2014 Eagle County strategic plan (view the complete plan at http://www.vail valleypartnership.com).
Quality of life
As the home of two world-renowned ski areas, an abundance of outdoor activities available on a year around basis and easy access to large tracts of public lands, Eagle County attracts a substantial recreation and tourism population. There also exists a sizable real estate market driven, to a large extent, by second homeowners.
Eagle County has invested in a considerable number and variety of amenities and events to attract visitors of all types, in addition to those seeking to engage in the traditional winter sports, with a strong focus on accommodating families with children of all ages. Amenities include golf courses, bike paths, public pools, ice rinks, other indoor and outdoor recreation facilities. On top of these amenities, there exists a high level of public services and a regional airport that facilitates increasingly diverse air travel options and also supports a strong corporate and private aviation industry. The easy availability of these recreational lifestyle amenities for a large percentage of the year-round population results in lower obesity, better nutrition and better wellness overall, but also results in a number of important challenges.
A self-sufficiency analysis conducted by the county in 2009, based on standards created by the Colorado Department Labor, shows that the minimum cost of living is higher than the six-county Denver metro area for three of the four family categories and substantially higher than Mesa County in all four of the categories. Mesa County includes the city of Grand Junction. Detailed results are available in the draft plan. More traditional cost of living calculations, as published by Sperling’s Best Places (www.bestplaces.net), yields a local estimate that is 44 percent higher than the national average.
The complete self-sufficiency chart and analysis can be viewed at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com (simply click on “Eagle County Economic Development Plan draft” on the right side of the homepage).
Because Eagle County is deeply rooted in the resort and tourism industry, the county attracts wealthy part-time residents and second homeowners which drive the high cost of housing up. At the same time, large service, retail and construction industries mean that there is also a considerable middle class workforce, and therefore, a wide disparity in income levels among county residents. A comprehensive child and family needs assessment conducted by Silver Street Consulting LLC in 2009, shows that this wealth disparity, coupled with the high cost of living, has resulted in a large percentage of residents and families who live in a state of increased vulnerability. Indicators of heightened vulnerability include a relatively high percentage of families without health insurance, and a significant proportion of the population that lacks appropriate prenatal care and engages in poor nutritional habits.
Since 2006, the Economic Council of Eagle County has asked employers about their business outlook and their forecasts for the future through an annual business survey known as the Workforce Report. Prior survey results can be found at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com. In 2013, 82 businesses responded to this survey, giving insight into the business climate and the relative optimism or pessimism residing in the psyche of local business owners.
Major conclusions from the 2013 Workforce Survey showed that survey respondents see improving trends both for their own businesses and for the county as a whole. The cautious optimism reflected in the 2012 survey results gave rise to a hopeful outlook for 2013.
In 2013, four in 10 respondents think the county economy is better off than last year, up from 30 percent last year. Only 5 percent say the economy is worse. Respondents are much more optimistic about their own businesses as well, with 57 percent saying their own business is better than last year.
Community attitudes favoring inter-community and countywide collaborations are on the rise. Efforts like the Mayors and Managers group, the Regional Collaboration subcommittee, the Economic Development Leadership Council, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and the Eagle Air Alliance (among many others) attest to the increasing recognition that improved individual community outcomes are supported by cross organizational, agency and jurisdictional collaborations.
Stay tuned for more on our economic development plan and future efforts in the coming weeks or view the draft plan at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.
Chris Romer is the president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.
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