Nostalgia isn’t the answer
Eagle County and the state of Colorado continue to grow, although for the first time in recent memory this growth is slowing. The Denver Post recently explored the trend of Coloradans leaving due to higher housing costs and increased traffic.
The issue of population growth has manifested locally, as well, with opinion pieces in the Vail Daily exploring the local impacts of housing and traffic and the associated challenges these present to our quality of life.
Some basic facts, courtesy of the Colorado Demographers Office, provide the foundation for the discussion. Colorado is growing. Dating back to 2001, Eagle County’s growth has not been driven by in-migration (“newcomers”) but, rather, has been driven by natural increase (i.e., births). We continue to see a net decrease in population growth from age 32 to 60 — significantly more people in that age range leave Eagle County than move to Eagle County.
Eagle County is both growing (in terms of jobs and population) and slowing (in terms of net in-migration); this dichotomy causes, in many cases, nostalgia for a time that never was. Ponder this: How can we compete for the best and brightest? Our state (and county) is getting old fast; how do we prepare for the changes to labor force, housing, etc.?
Growth is occurring across the state, but in Eagle County, our growth is driven by natural birth rates, rather than in-migration; how does this impact our policies? The Denver Post article presents the challenge facing us: millennials cite the tension between high housing costs and the inability to earn enough income, while older adults and natives complained about rising stress levels and a cultural coarsening.
I know this: Nostalgia isn’t the answer. Reminiscing for a time when there were fewer people in Eagle County while conveniently forgetting we also had fewer conveniences, cultural opportunities and job opportunities isn’t the answer. Looking back on the “good old days” ignores the improvements and increased opportunities that exist today.
What is the sweet spot for our continued success? Sweet spot defined as an optimum point or combination of factors or qualities. What is our optimum point? What is our combination of qualities that will lead to a better Eagle County? What are our opportunities moving forward?
The thing that rises to the top for me is that we have an incredible tribe of people committed to one another and our community’s success. Our community is filled with people who strive to ensure the Vail Valley’s economic health stays strong for years to come by helping existing Vail Valley businesses thrive and supporting new businesses that have the potential to support our local economy. This includes elected officials, county and town staff, nonprofit board volunteers, business leaders and many others.
Our community is filled with people committed to helping build and sustain a business-friendly community that is welcoming, supportive and appreciative of the growth that makes our legendary quality of life possible. We are fortunate to have elected officials who share this goal and outlook. These folks recognize the need for collaboration across parochial boundaries and recognize the need to continue to invest in housing, transit, broadband and events to help drive our economy and address our challenges.
Nostalgia might be fun. But it doesn’t address our need to help businesses prosper and help the community thrive. Our sweet spot? A steadfast commitment to good policy supporting a community focused on environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.