Vail Valley: Has the economy really hit bottom? |

Vail Valley: Has the economy really hit bottom?

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

Vail Valley banker Dan Godec knows what he and the folks at Community Banks of Colorado have been doing to weather this economic storm. But it was good to hear another company’s doing many of the same things.

Godec was in the audience Thursday for the Vail Valley Partnership’s annual Vail Valley Business Forum, held this year at the Westin Riverfront Resort.

“It was good to hear about efficiency, about doing more with less,” Godec said.

The speakers on the podium represented banking, state government, lodging and the newspaper business. All said the current slump has forced them to use people and resources more efficiently.

Those speakers had a big audience. About 250 people came to the session, called “Forget the guesswork – Here’s the plan.”

“I think the attendance indicates there are a number of people looking for guidance,” Prudential Colorado Properties owner John Slevin said. He added that his company has also been finding ways to operate a tighter ship.

But, Slevin said, that needs to be combined with action to seek out new customers.

“You can’t just sit back,” Slevin said.

Panel member Jim Kauffman, a senior vice president with Marriott Lodges said that hotel chain is still learning how to get more out of its front-line employees and managers while still maintaining its customer service levels.

That can include finding cheaper brands of bacon or ice cream that still taste great. It also includes quick reversals when customers complain.

Kauffman said Marriott recently tried to drop oatmeal from some of its food service.

“We heard about it within 48 hours,” Kauffman said. Oatmeal was quickly brought back.

In the banking world, John Ikard, CEO of Colorado-based FirstBank, said there’s only so much cutting that’s possible. FirstBank – which actually posted record profits last year – has still quietly shut down a few branches, particularly in grocery stores. But, he added, most customers still want a local branch bank they can go to, whether it’s a small business owner who needs to talk to a loan officer he’s done business with for years or a depositor with a problem.

While the different business people at the forum had different stories, most agreed that a full economic recovery could take a while.

That could be several years for the state government, which is facing cuts totaling about $1.3 billion for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, according to Don Elliman, the state’s chief operating officer.

There are no easy answers to the questions of what and where to cut, Elliman, who added that because of constitutional restrictions, most of the cutting will come from health care, higher education and the state’s prison system.

And, while leisure travel seems to be coming back, if slightly, Ikard said both businesses and consumers have learned some hard lessons from the current slump, and that consumer and business behavior may have fundamentally changed.

“There’s no wholly safe investment,” Ikard said. “There are no bulletproof loans, and real estate doesn’t always go up.”

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