Vail Resorts relocation a wake-up call
Communities tend to look at their largest businesses as civic assets and in a way, they are. It usually makes for a good economic marriage. But, when one of the partners announces “I’ve grown. I need more space,” a new dynamic tension in the relationship is bound to appear.And so we come to a relationship milestone with this week’s announcement that Vail Resorts plans to relocate its corporate offices to the Denver area.Reinventing or, in business terms, renegotiating that relationship is something that will take some time. Vail Resorts will continue to be a dominant employment force in Eagle County, but this experience should teach us that our political and business leaders eyes should be open to new possibilities. We’ve spent the past couple of decades taking the status quo of Vail Resorts for granted. And while we’ve put a lot of thought, energy and money into building our tourist economy, up until very recently we’ve never really discussed putting some of that energy towards incubating, attracting and retaining businesses in Eagle County. We need to.Our community will be losing around 100 good-paying jobs. And there will be other short-term painful impacts too, as many spouses will be relocating. The emotional impact is far greater than the economic one. The loss in payroll value is a little under 1 percent of all private wages paid in Eagle County (based on the most recent employment data). While that’s not as bad as shutting down the mine, it’s what an economist would call “a significant event,” because its impacts are both economic and attitudinal. From a community economic standpoint, good-paying jobs – with decent benefits – aren’t easy to come by or easily replaced. And how do we fill this newly opened hole in our economic landscape? Like building a balanced investment portfolio, we should focus on attracting and incubating smaller companies with entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to create economic and civic energy.Ideally, these companies should be the kind that aren’t dependent on local construction or tourist cycles. They should be the types of businesses that derive income from regional and even global markets, yet see the intrinsic value of running their companies in a premium lifestyle environment. We already have several good examples of companies such as Booth Creek Holdings, CenturyTel, East-West Partners, Gallegos Corporation and RA Nelson successfully pursuing out-of-market growth while maintaining their corporate and regional offices here. These companies, along with many of our county’s successful businesses, know that we have some overwhelmingly positive assets that very few communities in the United States can only hope to have.Let’s start with our spectacular physical surroundings and genial climate. Overlay that with an exceptionally well-educated population that propels a vibrant intellectual and cultural community, plus high level business networking opportunities that serendipitously appear on chair lifts, golf courses and at dinner parties. Add in good telecommunication and transportation infrastructure plus convenient day-to-day shopping. Finally, put it all within a two-hour proximity of a major metropolitan area and you’ve got a pretty compelling sales pitch. These are all nutrients to help grow a dynamic 21st century business. And in the case of Vail Resorts, they’ve certainly worked.Most importantly, there are some tangible steps we can take to strengthen both our short- and long-term economic prospects. In the short term, we should look for opportunities to work with Vail Resorts to provide outplacement options for staff who choose to remain in the valley. The leadership of our chambers and governments should sit down with VR’s senior management to discuss ways that, moving forward, we can make sure that there’s a positive business environment that encourages Vail Resorts to keep good jobs in Eagle County. As the company consolidates its office space, we should develop a clear picture of office availability and consider strategies on how to fill those spaces with new or expanding businesses.Thinking about the longer term, the Economic Council has already started moving on projects that will collect, analyze and disseminate solid data which will give us a sense of economic trends, but also will help businesses and governments better plan for the future. Concurrently, we’re starting to develop strategies for creating better awareness outside of Eagle County that makes the business case for locating and growing a company here.Vail Resorts’ announcement provides us with a perfect opportunity to put ideas into action and bring leaders from our chambers of commerce, towns, county and other larger employers together to develop tangible strategies for not only replacing this lost asset, but improving upon it. The good news is that, in the past year, a lot of the pieces and players to do just that have been put into place. So, while we’re soon to say goodbye to an old corporate friend we should be thankful for the wake-up call. Don Cohen is the executive director of the Economic Council of Eagle County. He can be reached at email@example.com.Vail, Colorado
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