Middle ground may be where solutions found

Variety of local 'stakeholders' to meet at Economic Summit

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— This year's Economic Summit is all about action and will be the table around which community leaders and residents are invited to join forces and face the uncertainty that growth and change can bring.

The challenge for participants will be to work together instead of against each other.

"It's unusual that there is common ground in civil society," said Chris Diamond, president of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. "But there always comes a point when people have to find it."

Sandy Evans, the new executive vice president of the Chamber Resort Association, said Steamboat Springs and Routt County have reached a crossroads, and long-term decisions about growth, development, and quality of life issues need to be made.

"We need to get together. I hope people here will put in a little time to get things done," Diamond said. "The community is going to grow it's going to change. But right now, there's no movement to assign priorities or determine what the community wants, let alone how to pay for it. We need to get these issues resolved or we'll end up approaching things on a piecemeal basis, which can lead to some very bad decisions. The status quo stinks, and we're not going anywhere but backwards unless we try something different."

"We need strategies we need action," said CJ Mucklow, the local CSU Extension agent and a member of the chamber's Economic Development Council.

If any gathering of businesses and interest groups could lead to heated discussions, it is this year's summit.

Economic Development Council members have identified what they find to be "key stakeholders" in the community, and have extended each a personal invitation to the summit, Evans said.

"The reason for this is so that we can get a broad-based spectrum of views from no-growth and anti-marketing proponents to construction companies, ski corp. representatives, the Agricultural Alliance, and other local businesses," Mucklow said.

Some of the issues that will be debated at the summit are affordable housing, summer marketing, the rate of growth, diversifying the economy, and determining the sustainability of current sources of revenue like tourism and construction industries.

"When you drive out to or along the Elk River, do you enjoy yourself? Isn't it pretty? What's that worth to you?" Mucklow asked rhetorically, expressing what he believes to be an important issue for the community.

"Affordable housing is probably the greatest challenge to the city right now," said Mike Tetreault, an Economic Development Council member and the Nature Conservancy's Yampa River program manager.

"Nancy Kramer, from the Arts Council, has been identified as a key stakeholder. Thriving arts tend to be a good indicator of a healthy community," EDC member Towney Anderson said.

"The lodging industry also has a huge stake in the health of the economy, so Joe Brennan has been invited to represent the lodging industry," Anderson added. "I'm concerned, however, that the real estate industry might be under-represented."

Although there are likely to be numerous viewpoints and opinions at the summit Mucklow doesn't think dissension and separation will be problems.

"This community is better than that better than a 'heated debate,'" he said. "The more communication we have, from as many different groups and individuals as possible, the better decisions we'll be able to make."

Actually, the more people with opposing viewpoints who come, the better, he added.

Tetreault agrees with Mucklow.

"One of our greatest assets, as a community, is our discourse. We are capable of bringing disparate interests to a table, and now we have to strategically plan to resolve them," he said.

Developing a strategy for settling the conflicts of seemingly opposing interests may be more feasible than it at first appears.

"We need to get all our perceived differences in the same room. You can find common ground in a hurry once you try," said Tetreault who believes that most organizations' missions share a set of values.

"Nobody here wants a trashed, flammable river. Nobody wants a congested main street. Everybody wants to be able to afford a nice home and to maintain what we all believe to be the area's most valuable assets," he said. "Maybe I'm too idealistic, I don't know but I think that a positive momentum will come out of this year's Economic Summit, and I am determined to do what I can to keep that momentum going in the right direction."

The summit will be the first step in a process of implementing action plans, Evans said, but the success of those plans will depend on more than one person.

Several community leaders and EDC members are confident that good, tangible things will come out of the summit.

"I'd bet money on it," Mucklow said. "The town is full of experts, and I know that some outstanding ideas are going to develop at the summit."

With the variety of yet-unknown sources contributing to the summit, it is difficult to foresee what sorts of solutions participants might prescribe for the area.

At the summit, participants will convene in small groups to discuss issues of concern like affordable housing and summer marketing, for example and develop an action plan. Each action plan will be submitted to an appropriate organization like the Regional Affordable Living Foundation or the chamber for review and to ensure that something more than talk comes out of the summit.

At a meeting following the summit, City Council members and county representatives will peruse the plans and minutes of each session, to begin the arduous process of implementing the changes the community members have deemed most necessary.

What, specifically, these changes might be remains an enigma. Given the variety of expertise and strong opinions in the community, common ground could be found anywhere, or nowhere.

"People come to a place like Steamboat to fulfill their dreams to fulfill their image, if you will, of what a special place like Steamboat is. Do all these people have a vested interested in the health of the many different sectors of the community? Is it worth our finding common ground within these sectors?" Anderson asked. "We need to take another look at the origins of sayings like 'killing the goose that laid the golden egg.' Those phrases didn't come out of stale and dormant places. The dynamism of different interests in Steamboat creates an interesting tension."

One thing seems certain: both short and long term outcomes of the summit and community planning will depend on upon participants' willingness to reach a middle ground. "Who knows how it will turn out," ski corp.'s Diamond said. "But it's worth a try."

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

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