Vail Daily column: Takeaways from the Vail Valley Business Forum
Earlier this month, the Vail Valley Partnership hosted its annual Vail Valley Business Forum. The event is put on for the business community and brought together more than 80 attendees from throughout the valley, in addition to our panel of town managers, to hear about state and local economic development initiatives and opportunities.
The panel included town managers from throughout the valley, including Jeff Shroll (Gypsum), Jon Stavney (Eagle), Virginia Egger (Avon), Jim White (Minturn), Scott Burgess (Red Cliff) and Stan Zemler (Vail). Given a few weeks to reflect on the panel discussion, I thought I would share my key takeaways from the event.
It’s up to us
The state of Colorado is making strides in economic development, and while all ships rise with the tide, many of their efforts are focused on high-level business recruiting and big picture business environment issues.
It is important stuff — and we benefit from it. But it’s also true that we are not going to receive (and should not expect to receive, given current budgets) direct focus on areas that impact us in Eagle County, including areas such as transit (Interstate 70, airport funding, etc.).
While the Colorado Tourism Office has numerous opportunities for local businesses to engage with website listings, co-op advertising and free promotion via colorado.com, it’s still up to us to drive our local tourism economy.
Our towns are actively engaged in economic development efforts, ranging from tourism and special event promotion to business grant programs. This local effort to impact our towns and our valley will remain paramount to achieving our goals to have Eagle County be the best place to live, work and build a business moving forward.
Regional collaboration gaining momentum
“Regional collaboration” is in many ways the buzz phrase du-jour. Here at the Vail Valley Partnership, we are all in on the benefits of working together at a regional level to help create efficiencies and to be more effective in our various efforts to remove duplication of services wherever it is feasible. The mayor/manager meeting (held quarterly and coordinated by Eagle County) has gained momentum the past few years and now has working sub-groups focused on regional issues and opportunities to figure out how our towns and special districts can work together in an efficient and effective manner to better our community.
Based on comments from our panel, regional collaboration seems to have widespread support from our municipalities; examples included a shared event calendar across the valley, transit and housing issues, recreation and trails and the benefits of expanding the mayor/manager group discussed.
Collaboration isn’t always easy — and in many ways is more challenging than just doing your own thing — but the benefits of working together across parochial boundaries has huge upside, as recognized by the panel and audience at the Business Forum.
What will we look like in 20 years?
We asked each town manager to share a prediction for the next 20 years, specifically regarding our economy and what it might look like in the future. Everyone recognizes that tourism is our leading industry and our key economic driver, and also recognizes that our continued growth depends upon building on this success and also strengthening other segments.
Ideas included the continued development of “one valley” with each town and community being a distinct neighborhood that is part of a greater community (noting that this idea doesn’t change any municipal efforts but rather recognizes our increasing dependency on our neighboring communities within the valley), the development of summer as our growth opportunity, changing demographics of our visitor base, increased collaboration amongst special districts and towns and the recognition that we are strong (and will continue to be strong) because at our core this is a special place. It was suggested that we might even have greater connectivity to the ski mountains with a chairlift located in Red Cliff.
Going back to the first takeaway, it was suggested that we control our own future and that each town needs to nurture our individual community while recognizing that we’re all part of a bigger valley-wide community.
Overall, the discussion was lively and positive. Economic development and collaboration remain paramount as we continue to recover from the “Great Recession,” as sales tax receipts continue to grow and as property values slowly improve. There are numerous efforts currently taking place that will impact our economy in a positive manner, including a regional broadband project, the CCRC facility in Eagle, Epic Discovery build-out and many others.
As the Vail Valley Partnership and Economic Council of Eagle County continue to work with industry and government to create an updated economic development plan for Eagle County, I see an opportunity for everyone (business, government, nonprofits, etc.) to work more closely with industry partners, residents, business leaders, second-home owners and other stakeholders to drive tourism, improve our visitor experiences, expand our health and wellness industry, all while growing our local economy and adding jobs. Working together to achieve these, we have the opportunity to improve the quality of life for the people that live here.
Chris Romer is the president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.