What makes some communities in Colorado thrive while others fail to retain population and sustain economic growth?
A recent study commissioned by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the Business Research Division (BRD) of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, State Demography Office studied this issue. These groups partnered on an economic resiliency study of Colorado rural communities to understand what makes some communities in Colorado thrive while others fail to retain population and sustain economic growth.
Key challenges to our economic growth include youth & family retention and smart growth. Data from the Colorado Demographers Office shows Eagle County has an outflow of citizens in their 30’s; retention of this population is not only important to our businesses, but also to our sense of community.
We are not unique in this challenge; rural communities outside the Front Range often have a difficult time retaining younger generations for several reasons, including wages, education, and social issues. Communities depend on younger, more educated workers and leaders to grow and survive, and the lack of retention of young professionals poses a serious risk.
It is generally accepted that growth is needed to survive, yet the question of how to facilitate growth is difficult to answer. The report shows common words used to describe the desired type of growth are “slow,” “controlled,” “smart,” and “managed.” It is incumbent upon our elected officials to work with private industry to ensure we can grow our housing stock to retain our families and grow our economy, and to meet the needs of our business community.
Along with population and tourism growth, other growth-related challenge is bringing new businesses to communities while convincing existing businesses to stay. The issue of broadband access is an issue across rural Colorado; many lack current broadband infrastructure, but are in the process of developing comprehensive plans to lay the groundwork for the future. Broadband was mentioned as a top business requirement during many of the discussions; broadband would allow companies to stay connected even in more remote locations and offer an appealing factor to “location-neutral” businesses.
The constant – from resort to western slope, from the eastern plains to the four corners – is that quality of life and local atmosphere are the important drivers of economic resiliency. Ask any local and you’re likely to find that quality of life is why they choose to live and work here. This attribute attracts entrepreneurs, seasonal workforce, visitors, second homeowners, and others to our community and creates an environment where we feel an intense connection to the community.
Vail Valley Partnership is honored to partner with Eagle County Schools, Colorado Mountain College, and YouthPower 365 to help address this issue in Eagle County. We are partnering to create youth apprenticeship programs with CareerWise Colorado to meet the needs of our youth population and our local business community. We are also working to advocate for smart growth through workforce housing projects throughout the valley, and working with our state elected officials to advocate for good public policy around transportation, transit, broadband, and housing issues to support local economic growth.
It’s our collective job to maintain this quality of life by building an environment that allows businesses to grow, expand, and succeed. We’re active in this at Vail Valley Partnership and encourage you to join us and share your thoughts.
Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com.