April 10, 2020
The Honorable Ken Buck
2455 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congressman Buck,
Vail Valley Partnership is the regional chamber of commerce, with over 915 members throughout Eagle County who collectively represent over 80% of the local workforce. We are dedicated to the economic vitality of our community; COVID-19 has reinforced the need for a collaborative, community-driven approach to economic vitality.
While I write to you today in my role as President & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, you should also know I am the elected trustee representing Eagle County on the Colorado Mountain College board.
Unlike most disasters, the COVID-19 outbreak, which is expected to last as long as 18 months in this country and elsewhere, has not caused physical damage to infrastructure or property. But damage to the socio-economic system here and worldwide may end up being far more significant than any previous disasters.
While there may be short-term parallels to 2008 regarding uncertainty, this time the effects are deeper to all levels of business and society because the economy is at a virtual halt. An impending global economic downturn may complicate matters and increase competition for dollars and slow economic activity leaving many without work.
Other communities that have worked through the disaster recovery process following hurricanes, floods and fires have seen those efforts typically unfold over years, not months. We may anticipate the same, or possibly longer despite the infrastructure remaining intact.
While dirt will not have to be moved and structures repaired, more difficult tasks may predominate.
It is anticipated at this time the recovery plan will need to have a shorter-term remedial portion measured for citizen relief conducted over the course of a number of months, and longer-term economic rebuilding that could need to be measured over years.
We commend our federal leaders for passing the CARES Act. This legislation will have a direct benefit to our most vulnerable populations, which includes our small business community. I repeat: small business is a vulnerable population. 90% of Eagle County’s businesses have 20 or fewer employers and are primarily in the highly impacted tourism and hospitality industries.
Enter Colorado Mountain College and the CMC Responds program. The initiative directly and positively benefits our community members and businesses impacted by COVID-19. Specifically, the program includes:
- Investing all $1.6 million in CARES Funds earmarked for CMC to waive tuition, fees and books for the summer 2020 term. When the ski resorts closed on March 14 followed by bars, restaurants, and other “non-essential” businesses, the sector with the highest level of unemployment was Accommodations and Food Services – at a rate six times the next highest sector. In this sector unemployment claims were up 600% in one week according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (as of March 21)
- This program incentivizes local workforce to stay in our mountain communities, to advance their skills and training while furloughed or unemployed and prepare for a working environment that won’t be the same when the economy opens back up.
- Investing internal savings and in-kind resources to the CMC Responds program to benefit our communities
- Extending (starting in fall 2020) the President’s Scholarship to students who have graduated from local high schools within the past three years and extending the deadline for current high school seniors. This provision anticipates the likelihood that local students who went away for college or had plans to do so this fall will be forced to make new decisions either for public health reasons or because of financial distress on themselves or their families.
- Donating all available personal protective equipment (PPE) to local hospitals and clinics
- Making CMC facilities available where they might be needed during this public health crisis
- Activating the No Barriers Fund in the CMC Foundation to support students facing particular financial hardship that prevents them from staying in college
- Making tutoring services available to help local parents with home schooling
- Distributing donated laptops to students who need them, so they can participate in online-only college classes
- Continuing Fund Sueños for students not eligible for Federal Financial Aid, a program that is funded by private donors
- Providing internet service to students and families without broadband access, so they can participate in online-only college classes
- Offering complimentary business consulting/training for local businesses affected by the pandemic, helping them to survive, thrive, and re-tool for a different economic landscape
- Launching special workforce focused, condensed courses such as an Introduction to Hospitality Supervision series that starts April 15 to capture the many seasonal and tourism-based workers who were suddenly unemployed
Imagine my dismay to read your comment that “This has nothing to do with the coronavirus. If the money had been used for small businesses that were put out of business, that’s one thing. Or workers who were left unemployed, that is something we need to do to help people….”
This program is a tremendous benefit to all of the mountain communities so hard hit by the pandemic and frankly, I am not sure how more directly related to COVID the Colorado Mountain College plan could be. CMC Responds directly and positively impacts people who have been distressed as a result of COVID-19. It positively benefits students, local employees, businesses, and most importantly the mountain communities economically devastated as a result of COVID. The Colorado Mountain College program has a direct positive impact to each of these stakeholder groups.
This is the exact type of program that should be modeled across the country by public and private organizations alike. We encourage you to take a second look at this program and to reach out to chamber of commerce organizations, businesses, school districts, and other stakeholder groups throughout the Colorado Mountain College service region to understand the depth and benefit of this program to Colorado Mountain College students, our business community, and our community at large.
President & CEO
Vail Valley Partnership