Vail Valley Partnership CEO: Are we better off than we were 20 years ago? (column)

Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership

Are we better off than we were 20 years ago? This is clearly a rhetorical question. By most any objective measure, we are significantly better off. Sure, we have no-growth folks who want to restrict and prevent commercial development in our community; however, the proposition of no growth has absolutely no chance to succeed.

Granted, 20 years is an arbitrary starting point. But let’s use that point in time for no other reason than it is a round number, and it is an easy point of reference. Eagle County is a much nicer place than when I moved here in 1997.

Let’s examine what our growth has provided us: more jobs, which leads to more opportunities; new and better schools; more and better events (GoPro Mountain Games, Birds of Prey World Cup races, numerous farmers markets); and cultural activities (Vilar Performing Arts Center, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater improvements); and a massive amount of on-mountain infrastructure improvements (Blue Sky Basin expansion, numerous new lifts and restaurants at both Vail and Beaver Creek) by Vail Resorts.

In the past 20 years, we have seen new neighborhoods (Eagle Ranch, Miller Ranch, Stratton Flats, Sky Legend) and new retail development (Riverwalk at Edwards, Costco). We have seen increased public infrastructure investment (roundabouts, streetscape, underpasses, pedestrian bridges, water parks). This has been balanced and enhanced by a huge amount of private investment (Arrabelle at Vail Square, Four Seasons, The Ritz-Carlton, Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa) throughout the valley.

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We have seen a significant increase in access to/from Eagle County airport, including year-round flight service on two airlines, and we are home to vibrant nonprofits supporting the community in many ways. The list goes on. Some quick hits: Colorado Mountain College’s Edwards campus, an increase in Habitat for Humanity homes, new bus service to Dotsero, Walking Mountains Science Center, Health Links Healthy Business Certification, Eagle County’s Sustainable Communities effort and CareerWise youth apprenticeships, to name a few.

That’s a lot of improvement to this community in a relatively short time. Let’s keep in mind that our community as we know it today is a purpose-built community. We exist and our economic success has been built on a foundation of recreation and tourism, and we benefit from the economic vitality and quality of life these bring.

It’s not a question of population growth. We are going to grow, much as we have historically grown. Based on the Census Bureau’s national population projections over your lifetime (and your children’s lifetimes), any desirable area such as ours is going to see continuous demand from internal growth, intra-state migration (as increasingly location-neutral job-holders seek out desirable places to live) and possibly international migration. Eagle County is no exception, as we are forecast to grow to more than 90,000 people by 2040.

There remains an underlying tension between regional and state governments and the business community who generally like some regular growth and those local voters who don’t want any growth. There is agreement that growth for the sake of growth is not a good thing, yet there isn’t always agreement that appropriately managed growth provides benefits to the entire community.

There’s no question in my mind that we’re better off than we were 20 years ago. We can gripe about the changes and put our heads in the sand pretending that we’re at capacity. Or, alternatively, we can work together to address the real question: How do we continue the positive momentum moving forward over the next 20 years?

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at

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