Vail Daily column: A different economy
All across the state, a whole army of middle-schoolers is about to leave the ranks of childhood and start high school. I distinctly remember the message communicated over and over by multiple adults, my parents included, that ninth grade was when everything started to “count.” In many ways, the high school experience truly does count. Choices around individuality, trajectory, priorities — all that. Oh, and your grades start to count for college admissions, too. The message has been the same since I was in school: Get good grades, go to a good university, get a degree and get a good job. Chances are that many folks see this as the safe and responsible choice.
The Interstate 70 corridor seems to be a gathering place for so many of us that followed and in our own way directly rebelled against that model. The truth is that most of us have had to reconsider, at one time or another, what safe and responsible really mean. That’s why some of us came here after all. Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer says the people who are here are “choosing” to be here. I lean toward a more romantic description: We are the refugees, nomads and mercenaries of humanity — not exactly a description of a safe and responsible population. We’re a different breed, and most of us won’t hesitate to tell you so.
The values of my generation, for instance, are changing the economic landscape of the community. Frankly, I think we’re scaring our parents. We prioritize purpose, meaningful work and experiences. We are deeply loyal, love variety and appreciate change. Some of us are notoriously lazy, self-involved and egregiously narcissistic (the advent of the selfie). Some of us came to the mountains for our careers, like I did. Some of us came here for one season to take a break from the rat race and stayed. Regardless of your generation or why you came to the mountains, I think you’ll agree that the valley is changing.
I once heard a friend describe our economy as not good, not bad — just different.
It’s true. It is a different economy.
Economics are local. We aggregate data and come up with broad statements about the national and world economy, but the truth is that the only economy that really matters is the economy that is directly affecting your life. Give me a statistic about unemployment, and I’ll show you how we need to be asking questions about industries, education level, region of the country, age group and cultural behaviors. Beware opinions and policy based on macroeconomic data.
Let’s dig into an issue to highlight my point. Do you own a home? By answering that simple question here in the I-70 corridor, you are saying more about yourself than you think. In most areas of the country, the vast majority of middle class wealth was tied up in real estate at the start of the recession. If you have a household income around the national average ($52,000), then chances are that your net worth is in your home — that is, if you are fortunate enough to still own one. For those of you that owned a home or purchased one just before the recession, then you may just barely be getting back to your new normal.
On the other hand, more affluent households tend to have a large portion of total wealth held in instruments which provide direct exposure to the equities markets. The last five years looked pretty good, even with limited market exposure.
Why bring this up? Simply put, we seem to be a perfect little micro-economy to highlight and discuss the issues which arise as a result of income and wealth disparity. Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk politics. I’m just pointing out that we should probably be paying attention. Our population will likely double in the next few decades, and most of that population growth will be within the millennial and baby boomer generations. Hmm … I foresee growing pains.
Regardless of your generation or level of wealth, it might be high time for all of us to consider what safe and responsible living really means, as well as the associated consequences. Are we thinking about the future of our community to the extent that we should be? Are we combining the energy of youth with the wisdom of age in the best ways possible?
We’ll likely have to redefine our work and play in the valley if we really intend to survive. Either that, or we change who we are entirely. I’ll be the first to admit though that change isn’t exactly at the top of my personal list of worries. Let’s get it done.
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.