Cartier: Ski town diversification boosts economy; consider Aspen as an example (column) | VailDaily.com

Cartier: Ski town diversification boosts economy; consider Aspen as an example (column)

Jacqueline Cartier
My View

We all know the joys of living in a ski resort community, with the primary benefit being location. We step outdoors and, regardless of the season, we are swept up in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. Our adventurous lifestyle includes pushing the limits of traditional boundaries to create amazing experiences, yet it comes at a cost.

Living in a rural, single-industry community offers limited economic opportunity. The necessity of a food bank program, which filled more than 1,500 bags of food during Christmas week alone, is a heartbreaking example of the need for greater income-generating diversity in the valley. When our neighbor's request to Santa is for a job and a meal, something must be done.

In a county where employment is dominated by one industry, influenced by snow generation, everyone suffers when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate. Even those who are not directly affiliated with skiing are indirectly affected by the industry. It drives local business.

Retail, restaurants, hospitality, recreation facilities, spa services, transportation and real estate are obviously affected, but by extension, services that rely upon those industries are also impacted, including landscaping, design, financial institutions, even medical services (fewer people, fewer injuries/illnesses), maintenance, accounting, legal, private schools, charitable organizations — they all suffer when visitors and second-homeowners stay away. Not only is demand reduced, but those who live here may need to find alternatives to these services and products due to reduced income.

Perhaps it's time to re-evaluate our income potential across the valley. When hard times hit, how do we make up the difference? While we maintain our global position within the ski industry, can we extend beyond this comfort zone and create new possibilities, which can further improve our economic base?

We must begin thinking outside the box of current expectations and delve into the realm of innovation. We are endowed with location, and while rural, its proximity to Interstate 70 makes it highly accessible. Its surroundings encourage reflection and creativity, while also tempting personal challenge — the precise formula for innovation.

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We do face obstacles in attracting industry to our valley; primarily, the cost of living, development and sustainable resources, with complex regulatory and licensing requirements. The higher costs of gasoline, utilities, transportation and other expenses create burdens that inhibit corporate expansion.

Thus, we must create new avenues of opportunity that complement our existing infrastructure, while expanding fiscal opportunities for both individuals and towns. Where do we start? Who takes the reins?

Individual municipalities will certainly be a driving force in attracting new options to the valley, but strong leadership must also be generated at the county level to help develop a broader economic landscape. How do we move forward? Let's consider our neighboring Roaring Fork Valley.

Aspen has an equal presence in the ski industry, and its location brings similar weather and topographical considerations, thus it provides a good comparison. To equalize weak and shoulder-season concerns, Aspen decided to become an intellectual center.

Walter Isaacson began by developing the Aspen Institute, which has become a global think-tank powerhouse. It not only brings in regular conference visitors but also raises Aspen's international exposure outside of the ski industry. Its members are high-profile, high-income individuals, who are affiliated with large organizations and governments that are then inspired to return with associates. They are often so impressed with their time in Aspen that they become regular visitors or even second-homeowners.

To this point, recently announced was a partnership of the Smithsonian Institute with the Science Center and the Center for Physics in Aspen, expanding on that intellectual reputation that utilizes an existing infrastructure.

In the summer, the Aspen Music Festival and School is more than just a concert series; it is an annual cultural experience. It attracts renowned professionals from around the world to spend two months in a mentorship-residential setting, working with some of the most talented young people from every continent, offering daily concerts that extend to downtown streets, as everyone practices their incredible skills. Once again, Aspen extends its global presence in an industry outside of skiing.

Downvalley also supports the local economy by diversifying its appeal. Carbondale is becoming an antique and arts center. Glenwood Springs is known for its hot springs. Basalt brought retail suburbia to Roaring Fork with its Willits Center. Each has found its synergistic niche, and while the lack of snow has reduced sales, these businesses remain viable alternative attractions.

The Eagle River Valley has many of the same attributes, with the added advantage of accessibility via I-70. We must begin expanding to industries that require little space but leave a big fiscal footprint. Skiing is great, but we can offer so much more.

Jacqueline Cartier is a political and corporate consultant in Colorado and Washington, D.C. For further information, visit http://www.cartierwinningimages.com. She may be contacted at winningimages.cartier@gmail.com.