Vail Daily column: A pathway to prosperity
I listened to a longtime Vail thought leader discuss how the town is not economically sustainable. A recent report by RealtyTrac shows Eagle County as the “least” affordable county in the country with housing being 138 percent of the average wage. The report cited other counties that Eagle edged out for first place (Brooklyn, New York, which needs 126 percent, and Marin County, California, which needs 119 percent). The other two markets have a huge advantage over Eagle, with millions of high-paying jobs within 50 miles that allow professionals to easily move up the socio-economic ladder if desired.
So how did Vail end up where it is? We can slice and dice decades of planning and zoning, but we can also analyze the ecosystem to determine how it may help us move into the future toward sustainability. Just as a company has a culture that can help to produce bottom line results, communities also can use their culture to do the same.
The difficulty of planning for the future is the allocation of resources. Often, resources aren’t spent to mitigate running into issues like affordability, but they are spent on initiatives that cross a critical line to become a crisis. Post-crisis, resources tend to be spent exponentially over what would have been spent in smaller increments over a longer period. An example of this nationally was decades of discussion around healthcare costs without any action. As crisis spawned, decisions were made in haste that are now much more costly than if the problems would have been addressed earlier.
Our national debt is a good example of two ways to grow out of a problem. There are two pathways — the government can right size itself, or we can rely on economic growth of GDP to help reduce our overall exposure and allow for the re-payment at a faster pace. The answer is not an either/or decision, but combination is usually more practical than when dealing with large macro issues.
In Vail, the choices of cutting vs. growth are trickier when the crisis appears to be something you that must spend your way out of. Spending to subsidize housing, spending to buy land, spending to provide better transit and my favorite type of spending — spending to plan a plan that will be a plan until the next group develops a plan. This last example also links to the saying “doing nothing is a defined strategy.”
In 1636, as our country was being founded, a man named John Harvard insisted that this new land be seeded with an institution that brought his home country much prosperity — a university, a place where social mobility became an outcome of the investment in education that provided dividends to a nation for decades after the course work. Harvard quickly became a community asset where men (and women) developed their core skills to advance the country in new directions, with new ideas to concur the challenges of the day.
This pathway to prosperity unlocks the hidden value in a society or a community.
In Eagle County, we have no idea the hidden value of our talent, but with the growth of the human mind, new ideas will arise and growth will occur without relying exclusively on spending. Housing will begin to be more affordable due to a well-educated workforce of professionals earning the top wages for their field compared to national averages. This strategy won’t address housing for all levels of income, but it will start to secure the professional base in the valley that will ensure a stable economic base through higher retention levels.
Complex issues can overwhelm a community, and crisis mode can create a knee-jerk approach. A simple two-step process that has the potential to lead a community to sustainability: One, educate yourself to the next level of performance; two, give the gift of your education to those around you to elevate their performance. For many adults, learning has become a thing of their past. Learning has become something that appears during a conference or a lecture series. Although you may find inspiration during a speaker series, true skill-building and unlocking of our community value will occur at faster rates through the same diligence required at the university level.
Ross Iverson is CEO of the Vail Centre. Please go to http://www.vailcentre.org for more information.