Future proofing our community

Addressing community issues including health insurance costs, building a talent pipeline, retaining talent, workforce housing, or environmental sustainability is like trying to play chess in a pitch-black room, where you have to determine your opponent’s next move by sense of smell alone. Plus, you have a cold. Oh, and your opponent is God.

In other words, these issues are hard to tackle. But you plug away, trying to win a game you most likely can’t understand. Why focus on future proofing our community? Because our quality of life depends on the collective choices we make around these issues, and our community is facing significant challenges now and into the future.

How do we work together to build a stronger, more resilient community for the future to address these (and other) challenges?

Collaboration is how problems are solved. We live in a team-based world, not a single player game. Innovation is more apt to involve the practical implementation of an invention (i.e. new/improved ability) to make a meaningful impact in the market or society.

Thankfully, we’re through another political election cycle. Yet at its core politics is the art of controlling your environment in order to address community issues – so despite the bad connotation we have with “politics”, it is vital to our efforts. Unfortunately, in today’s polarized and fractured world, the words “rational” and “political” don’t often live in the same district. Polarization is real, and it is important to understand a vision of what you want our community look like in the future.

Consider a national example. Seattle somewhat recently proposed a “employee tax” to subsidize workforce housing (called the “Amazon tax”). The city proposed taxing business based on employee count; Amazon reps in turn argued that Seattle inefficiently spends its current revenue take. Their basic argument: the city doesn’t need more revenue; it just needs to do a better job with what it’s got. I won’t presume to be able to evaluate this claim. But it does sound uncomfortably close to the “just cut out the waste, fraud, and abuse!” admonition one hears all too often in budget discussions, as if there’s a budget line for those items that no one ever thought of cutting.

Consider a regional example. Denver’s proposed Initiative 66 proposed (thankfully, revoked fairly quickly) would have limited growth in Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield Boulder, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, Weld and Denver counties. Under the proposal, these counties could only grow their housing stock by 1 percent in 2019 and 2020, after which their voters could amend or repeal the limits. This type of no-growth initiative would simply exacerbate the housing affordability problems that Denver and Colorado are undergoing already. A Brookings Institution report supports that argument, saying permit caps raise prices and encourage larger houses.

While we can and should learn from national and regional issues, the fact is we are often all alone at a local level – similar to playing chess in the dark.

We cannot expect solutions to come from D.C. or from Denver. That requires us to look at community issues a bit differently – specifically what type of outcomes we want for our community and how we want to make meaningful strides toward building and maintaining a healthy, vibrant community. Our towns, county, special districts, non-profits, and others must continue to work together to address community issues through collaboration.

We should be able to agree on this, regardless of what political jersey you may wear.


Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com