Economic diversity debated at summit

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— In one of many groups at the Economic Summit Friday, some four dozen people gathered to discuss diversifying the economy of Steamboat Springs.

"I'm starting to sense," business broker Peter Remy said, "that because of all the good things the Yampa Valley has to offer, we're attracting an awful lot of wealthy and retired or semi-retired people to the community. I don't want to see the Yampa Valley become a retirement community.The community needs entrepreneurs. We'll die slowly as a community if we allow the beauty of this valley to only attract wealthy, retired people."

A variety of issues and problems were discussed at the summit and numerous solutions were proposed for the various challenges identified.

It is possible, the group members who discussed economic diversification seemed to agree, that too much time, money and energy is being invested in what has become a flat ski industry.

Instead, several group members said, the valley should work to attract high-tech businesses, like those involved in the Internet or telecommunications.

"We have to get our telecommunications links in, or we'll be left behind," said SpringSips representative Stephanie Reineke said. "We are the ugly western stepchildren in Colorado telecommunications technology. This doesn't mean the industry isn't viable here, it just means we have to do it. At some point, we have to step up to the plate."

SpringSips is a local Internet service provider.

Reineke explained that U S West will have fiber optic lines installed on the Western Slope by this fall. But, she said, unless local government or businesses act first, it will be another two years before the equipment for utilizing the high-speed fiber optic lines is available.

"There is a window of opportunity here for either the city of Steamboat or private companies to provide these services," she said.

Other steps identified that will help move the economy toward more diversification include enticing larger businesses to hold their conventions here, and enlarging Yampa Valley Regional Airport to accommodate the needs of businesses that might relocate here.

"Do we need a larger airport terminal? The answer is yes," YVRA manager Jim Palmer said. "The question is, 'How we will pay for it?"

Palmer told summit participants that the airport has hired an architect to find out what size terminal may be needed, and will eventually develop costs and construction drawings for the plans.

Some see the Steamboat chamber playing a role in diversifying the economy.

"The chamber does much more than bring in tourists," executive chamber committee member George Noyer said. "We should use the chamber as a vehicle, via the Economic Development Council, to start up investment firms. Let's stop talking about lots of ideas and focus on a few."

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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