Vail Daily column: Proud of our agenda
November 17, 2016
Election season is over and now is as good a time as any to come clean: We have an agenda.
Our agenda — nefarious as it may be — is multi-faceted with one commonality: to support our business community. We are working to build an environment where businesses can succeed; to provide tools including data, research, and connections; to provide a voice to business owners and operators at a regional and state level through advocacy efforts; and to provide meaningful chamber programs and benefits.
We will continue to unapologetically advocate for pro-business policies including workforce housing, transportation, workforce development, and rural broadband. These issues are instrumental to the continued growth and success of our businesses.
As locals know, Eagle County's cost of living is higher than many other places. To no one's surprise, housing is the key element pushing Eagle County's overall cost of living above the U.S. average. The Council for Community and Economic Research produces an annual County Cost of Living Index that serves as a measure of relative cost of living between different locations across the county.
The CCLI indexed Eagle County's cost of living at 107.8 against a nationwide average of 100. In the County Cost of Living, a number above 100 is more expensive than the U.S. average, and a number below 100 is less expensive than the U.S. average. Housing costs in Eagle County, however, are indexed at 123.2, while most other consumer goods and services in the county fall slightly above or below the U.S. average, making housing the primary driver elevating local living expenses.
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Workforce development as a key strategic priority area. Eagle County's population is currently one of Colorado's youngest, but is rapidly aging. While the youth, 18 to 25, and 46 to 60-year-old segments of the population remain constant at 25 percent, 8 percent, and 19 percent of the total population, respectively, state demographers are predicting a decline in the "family age" group of 26 to 45-year-olds, from almost 40 percent of the total in 2005 to about 24 percent by the year 2035. The older population, 61 and above, grows markedly, forecasted to comprise 22 percent of the total by 2035.
This demographic shift, and an increasing demand for skilled workforce across industry sectors, requires a concerted community approach to workforce development efforts. The Partnership takes a lead role in a variety of workforce efforts, including serving on the Rural Workforce Consortium board, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments economic development district, Colorado Mountain College advisory council. We engage and are involved in these efforts because we believe workforce development is important to our business community and future business growth.
Our focus on transportation includes both the I-70 corridor as well as increasing available seats to the Eagle County Regional Airport through the work of the EGE Air Alliance.
Interstate 70 is a critical transportation corridor connecting Colorado's Front Range and the Western Slope. This interstate is the only major east-west highway to move tourists and residents, as well as goods and services. Severe congestion in the corridor infuriates travelers, harms local communities and small businesses, impacts our tourism economy, creates safety risks, wastes fuel and hampers intrastate and interstate commerce.
Increasing air service and visitors coming through Eagle County has a direct economic benefit on every community — and every business — in Eagle County. Survey data shows over $275 million dollars are spent by visitors coming through the airport — with guests visiting our communities staying longer and having a higher repeat visitation rate than those who arrive through Denver International Airport. Because so much of our local economy, job market and businesses depend on the dollars spent by tourists and second homeowners who come through the Eagle County Regional Airport, the EGE Air Alliance plays a real, significant role that directly impacts Eagle County's residents and communities and Vail Valley Partnership is proud to continue to work to increase non-stop flight access from key destination markets.
Don't think that our community needs a voice? Or that our business community will be otherwise represented? Consider that upwards of 90 percent of Colorado's population lives along the I-25 corridor. And consider that the state budget is strapped.
Lest you think that having a voice for our community doesn't matter, Vail Valley Partnership was recently invited to meet with the non-partisan state legislative council in Denver. This group provides economic insights and feedback to the state legislature — helping to build the state budget and identify issues across the state. Three representatives from around the state — one Front Range, one Western Slope, one mountain region — were invited to share priority items and challenges.
We're proud of our agenda, and we pledge to keep advocating on behalf of the Vail Valley.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.
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