Steamboat Springs Any economic development strategy that focuses exclusively on financial wealth is incomplete, Amy Horne told an audience of more than 100 people at the Sheraton Steamboat Wednesday night.
Horne is the research director of the Sierra Business Council and was the opening speaker of Economic Summit 2002. The conference continues today with talks by Bob Lee, director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and American Skiing Co. CEO B.J. Fair.
Horne told her audience that successful economic development strategies must also pay attention to the natural assets of a community.
"A region's wealth is really based on three kinds of capital," Horne said. They are social capital, natural capital and financial capital. You have to grow all three. The goal is to enhance two of the three without diminishing the third."
Communities that pay attention to all three legs of that triangle will be more likely in becoming "the best place to live, raise a family and own a business," Horne said, drawing applause from the audience.
Horne's not-for-profit organization participated in the creation of a "new more comprehensive" approach to economic development in a 12-county region of California. The territory spans the 400-mile length of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The Sierra Business Council has developed a regional "wealth index," which is not unlike Northwest Colorado's community indicators project, she said. It allows community leaders to look at key economic indicators in a diverse region that has a mountain range in common.
The economic fortunes of mountain towns across the Sierra vary widely, she said. Placer County, in the north-central Sierra, is experiencing unprecedented growth and the overly taxed government services that come with it. Sandwiched between Sacramento and Reno, the community also has some of the highest average salaries in California, Horne said.
In contrast, former mining and timber towns in the extreme northern and southern Sierras are seeing an influx of wealthy second-home owners, but the only job growth is in low-paying tourism jobs.
Still, communities are finding ways to rebuild their economies while conserving the natural environment and cultivating their social capital, she said.
The town of Nevada City, Calif., was an active gold-mining town until 1956, Horne said. A fateful decision to preserve the historic buildings on its main street has preserved a livable pedestrian scale, and now, that community is attracting small, high-tech companies seeking to relocate to a community within 30 minutes of an interstate highway and an hour's drive from surrounding ski areas.
Two common misconceptions often act as traps that frustrate a community's efforts to restructure its economy, Horne said.
The first mistaken notion is that the best entrepreneurs for a community always live somewhere else and must be recruited to relocate.
The second is that to get ahead, communities must do more of what they already do.
Horne urged community and business leaders in her audience to focus on nurturing the entrepreneurs already located in Northwest Colorado.
Tourism-based economies need to diversify, Horne said. She cited the example of Lake Tahoe, long considered the jewel of the Sierra. There is a rapidly growing population within a one-hour to two-hour drive of Tahoe.
That trend is leading to shortened vacation visits that are eroding revenue stream for some businesses.
Instead of trying in vain to lengthen visits and reach for a higher demographic, the communities around Lake Tahoe should be seeking to broaden their economic base, Horne suggested.
She cited Sandpoint, Idaho, with its small ski area, Ski Schweitzer, as a success story.
"They didn't stop with tourism," Horne said. A booming arts community is attracting people from Spokane, three hours away. And Sandpoint actively pursued GTE to install high-speed fiber-optic communications lines a decade ago. That foresight has allowed catalog clothing company Coldwater Creek to remain in Sandpoint and prosper.
"Talented people are the basis of wealth creation," Horne said. Therefore, keeping talented people in your community is critical.
Good schools, affordable housing and the availability of recreation are all factors.