Embracing a Culture of Innovation

Solving community problems requires embracing a culture of innovation

Successful companies throughout history strive for continuous improvement. Improvement of systems, improvement in operations, improvement in employee retention and attraction, and improvement in products and services.

Successful communities also must foster a culture of innovation. This can be done by encouraging new ideas throughout the community – from elected officials to appointed staff, from private businesses to nonprofits, from our school systems to our entrepreneurs. Successful communities must find ways to engage those that live and work in the community to embrace an innovative mindset.

When community members are empowered, they feel safe to take the calculated risks needed to pursue continuous improvement. And without this, communities die. Successful communities find ways to build a culture of innovation to address community challenges and solve community problems while recognizing that much like roads and bridges, people are infrastructure, and we must invest in them.

Innovation is about people. Communities cannot innovate – people innovate within communities. Innovation is quintessentially a human activity; it is natural; it is proactive; it is innate; it is non-linear; and in many cases, innovation has become a threshold for success. Without innovation, it is hard for communities to thrive.

In managing a local community, innovation is – among other things – the capacity to understand and analyze problems; partner to bring in different resources to address challenges and adapting them to the local context. This requires the involvement and active participation of all relevant stakeholders to ensure proper outcomes in the future. It doesn’t happen by accident, and it requires an intentional process to ensure the “protectors of the past” vocal minority do not dominate the conversation.

Eagle County and the Eagle County Housing and Development Authority (ECHDA) deserve credit for embracing innovation. Acknowledging the worsening housing market to the residents due to the recent increase in demand for homes, sharp increase in prices, and low inventory combined with COVID-19-related mountain migration bringing more cash buyers to the marketplace. These impacts are felt intensely by local buyers and renters and in response, the Board of County Commissioners approved Bold Housing Moves to assist local buyers, renters, and homeowners with the ongoing housing crisis. The goal is to provide creative solutions for residents in a variety of areas.

The Town of Vail is working on a Destination Stewardship Plan which can embrace innovation. “Destination stewardship” is a strategic approach to tourism management that focuses on environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Tourism is an important economic engine for Vail and Eagle County. But we also know that tourism in a place as unique as Vail must be done in a way that preserves all that makes our community such a special place to live, work, and visit.

The Steward Vail planning team now is offering Eagle County residents who live beyond Vail a chance to take part in the project’s resident sentiment survey. The Eagle County Resident Sentiment survey can be taken here https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9TCX79R.

Communities cannot be innovative without great people. We need to continue to find ways to recognize the importance of our people to allow them to stay and grow careers and families in Eagle County. These programs have an opportunity to look forward, embrace innovation, and provide opportunities for people to thrive.

Eagle County’s Bold Housing Moves and Town of Vail’s Destination Stewardship Plan share the common theme of (potentially) benefiting the community in both the short and long term by moving past the protectors of the past voices of “no” and countering this by embracing innovation.


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