Vail Daily column: Why is economic development important?
Elected officials, chambers of commerce and various industry groups talk about the importance of economic development. But what is economic development? Economic development is a process of targeted activities and programs that work to improve the economic wellbeing and quality of life of a community by building local wealth, diversifying the economy, creating and retaining jobs and building the local tax base.
It is vital for communities to remain attractive places that can stimulate new economic opportunities through all sorts of economic cycles. Communities that are intentional in supporting their business communities have better economic and social results than those that don’t. Economic development programming is a prime example of how elected officials and communities can support their businesses.
Importance of tourism
So why is economic development important in Eagle County? Isn’t our economic outcome determined largely by Mother Nature (snowfall in winter and pleasant weather in the summer), rather than through a coordinated economic development program?
To be clear, our tourism industry is an incredible asset and is our largest economic driver. Tourism produces value by creating an experience people want, it brings new money into our system and it is our signature economic output. Many communities throughout Colorado and the country focus on tourism development as part of their economic development programming, and it’s that we continue to support this part of our economy through programs including the EGE Air Alliance, the Partnership’s group sales and event recruiting efforts, and through the I-70 Coalition, among many others.
However, our dependence on tourism creates risks and challenges that make a proactive approach to economic development crucial to the long-term health and durability of our economy. Challenges to Eagle County’s long-term economic sustainability include a reliance on a single sector for the majority of all new dollars brought into the local economy; highly seasonal business and employment cycles; environmental risks such a lack of snowfall, wildfire or impacts that may affect the attractiveness of Eagle County to guests; and service sector jobs account for 47 percent of current local employment, often meaning wages are not sufficient to support our high cost of living (despite the fact that our service sector jobs pay well above the state average for the industry).
While tourism will most likely always anchor our economy, these weaknesses exhibit the importance of taking charge of our long-term economic future by actively building communities that are supportive of diverse local employers, attractive to new ones and encouraging of entrepreneurship. That’s the underlying goal of our economic development programming and our efforts at Vail Valley Economic Development and Vail Valley Partnership.
Vail Valley Economic Development
We have made significant progress in putting economic development planning into action to support our business community. Vail Valley Economic Development provides professional economic development services across Eagle County and is housed within Vail Valley Partnership. Vail Valley Economic Development provides a single point of contact for economic and business-development related inquiries and responsiveness to area business needs.
Businesses, entrepreneurs and prospective businesses can find a community information repository at http://www.VailValley MeansBusiness.com, where we are a resource for comprehensive economic, workforce, infrastructure and related data to support informed business and community decision-making. We are able to connect businesses to nearly all other resources in the Vail Valley, the mountain region and the state, both quickly and easily.
Local business resources
Several partnerships and programs have been implemented to make it simpler for businesses and entrepreneurs to navigate community resources, gain support for their operations and learn more about our communities. These and other successes demonstrate that we are on the right path in helping to support employers and entrepreneurs, and in turn, this helps them bring new equity into the local economy.
We’re also able to monitor and share the needs of local employers with public officials, regulatory agencies, educational institutions and others to improve the business environment. Our annual workforce study, for example, has been conducted in Eagle County since 2006-’07. Core items of the survey have been collected since 2007-’08 and ask employers about their business outlook, their employees and their forecasts for the future. This helps us to educate the community about the importance of local employers, businesses and entrepreneurs, so they are appreciated and so their needs are supported.
Clearly, economic development efforts are important to a community, and even more so in our rural resort environment due to our unique economic challenges. A proactive approach to helping businesses and entrepreneurs also directly helps our communities — keeping our towns and our valley as a great place to live, work and play, now and into the future.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.