Yes (please) in my backyard
The NIMBY crowd (Not In My Backyard) and CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) have been out in full force recently. These residents routinely oppose a development or an event ostensibly on the grounds of it being inappropriate for the local area. Unfortunately, every new event and proposed development seems to be inappropriate for the local area in their view.
I was fortunate to recently attend a presentation by the state demographer. What’s that got to do with the NIMBY and CAVE people? Everything; they don’t want things to change, yet they don’t realize that change is inevitable.
The biggest changes we face are population growth and our aging population. The demographics of Eagle County and our neighboring mountain communities show increasing growth by citizens younger than 30 years old and a huge increase in those older than 60 (aging in place — not in migration of people moving here). Our community is changing, and we’re losing the population of 30- to 50-year-olds.
Why does that matter? We need to be a community that attracts and retains a skilled workforce or our businesses will suffer. Our latest workforce study shows 58 percent of local businesses report they have current vacancies and 20 percent of local businesses report their experience in finding employees is “terrible” or “poor.” Losing those in the peaks of their careers impacts our businesses, thus impacting our community.
Housing affects Hiring
Consider workforce housing. Local businesses have been vocal about the need for increased affordable housing, yet vocal NIMBYs come out of the woodwork to express their desire that affordable housing be built … somewhere else, but not in their backyard. Yet 69 percent of local businesses say housing negatively affects their ability to attract, hire and retain employees (an increase of 13 percent over the previous year).
There are major challenges with development of workforce housing, yet it is incumbent upon us to work together to find a solution. Kevin Selvy, from Crazy Mountain Brewing Co., said it well in a recent letter to the editor when he stated, “Our community needs to come together to work on this lack of affordable employee housing or we won’t be able to attract skilled workers to our valley and our local businesses will continue to suffer.”
Also consider the recently withdrawn Kaaboo-Vail event. For those not familiar, Kaaboo was a music, art, culinary and cultural event proposed for Aug. 18-20, 2017, with national headlining music and comedy acts, premium dining, art, spirits, craft breweries and VIP experiences. The demographics (age 25-65 with household incomes over $100,000), the dates (typically our slowest summer weekend from mid-June through early October), the popular music/lifestyle focus and the brand alignment all point to Kaaboo being an ideal fit for Vail.
There were significant obstacles with the Kaaboo event, as there are with any large event, and much like other large events such as Tough Mudder or Wanderlust Yoga Festival, we were not able to find a way to work together to find solutions and lost out on a brand-aligned program that would drive visitation.
Saying “no” to new developments, or to new events, is often the easy answer. But the easy answer isn’t always the right answer. The NIMBY and CAVE people need to remember is that our valley is dependent upon tourism as our main economic driver, and we need to continue to support this industry through new, brand-aligned events that fit need times on our calendar. The NIMBY crowd also needs to realize that our economic future is tied to growing businesses outside the traditional tourism economy, and that workforce housing is the signature challenge facing our community today and for the foreseeable future. Building a resilient local economy requires support of small and emerging businesses, and this can’t happen without workforce housing solutions.
The no-to-everything-folks conveniently ignore (or have forgotten) that Vail and Beaver Creek are purpose-built resort communities — built around entertainment and recreation. Our success has resulted in a desirable location for real estate investment; it would be shortsighted at best, and negligent at worst, to not focus on solving our workforce housing issue and on bringing new (large and impactful) events to our community.
Market leaders lead by finding ways to positively impact the community. We need to manage and control the impending change to ensure it positively impacts the community, or we can be victims of the change that will leave us behind our competitors. Pitkin and Summit counties are years ahead of us in the development of workforce housing solutions. Aspen and Telluride, among others, have increased events to the point their summer sales tax collections meet or exceed winter collections. To continue in our position as a market leader, we need to find ways to say “yes” to new events and developments, and avoid the knee-jerk reaction of “not in my backyard” or “it’s too big”.
Instead, we can all work together to say “Yes! In my backyard!” for issues including housing and new events. Let’s be the leaders we purport to be; let’s act the part and quit the knee-jerk “no” reaction to new proposals designed to positively impact our economy and workforce issues.
Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership.
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