Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Steamboat Springs Almost a month has passed since we were greeted with the headline announcing the closure of Boggs Hardware after 60-plus years of service to this community.
The closing of this community icon has re-energized the debate about what kind of town we want to be 10, 15, 30 years from now. I am encouraged that at least we are asking this question and perhaps more importantly the question of how we want as a community to get there.
The suggestions have ranged from do nothing (let the market decide) to having the government place stringent controls that would dictate how much of any type of business in this community is enough. The results from the citizen's poll to this question that appeared in the Feb. 16 issue of the Steamboat Pilot & Today were split 50-50 on this topic. Most likely there is not just one answer, but a combination of strategies we have yet to discover. Perhaps the best way we can honor what Boggs Hardware has meant to this community is having young and old, newcomer and longtime resident actively engage in this upcoming debate.
At the core of this debate is the question "Which way should we grow economically?" There are two key dangers we must do our best to avoid as we begin this debate.
We run the danger of not acknowledging the elements that attracted each of us to the Yampa Valley and made us stay. These elements range from the astonishing environmental beauty to the resort industry and its related amenities we all enjoy and the people themselves that call this place home.
We run the danger of getting stuck in analysis paralysis because deciding what to do is just too hard. Faced with a difficult decision like this one, we are likely tempted to do yet another economic study in the hope that some highly compensated consultant will uncover the "holy grail" of data, that unique collection that will make decisions so obviously clear that we will be able to define a strategy without much question or risk. Unfortunately, such magical data likely do not exist. In addition, by the time the study is completed, we will have likely forgotten the question we hoped it would answer. I urge us to resist the impulse to commission yet another economic study.
In this debate, perhaps one of the first questions we tackle is "How do we want to measure the economic health of this community?" Economic development is more of an art than an exact science. As the current chairman of the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council, experience has taught me that measuring results like art depends on your perspective and what an individual defines as beautiful and comfortable.
Traditional economic development measures used locally, statewide and nationally focus on total revenues by industry, i.e., total retail sales and the number of jobs newly created or lost over a given period of time. This traditional focus is not unimportant, but it may not give us the full picture in a community such as ours.
The economic data contained in the Yampa Valley Partners Community Indicators Project devoted an entire section to identifying sources of personal income by industry segments. Economies, even ours locally, are made up of people doing all sorts of things to earn a living.
Standard of living and quality of life are tied to personal income. For example if a person lives in a household that is at or above the median household income level for Routt County of $53,612, housing affordability is far less of an issue. Personal income by industry segment is an excellent way to measure economic health and diversity in a meaningful way. The introduction of these indicators adds yet another dimension to our conversation regarding our economic health.
I would also propose as we engage this debate that we adopt a regional perspective and understand that the borders that separate the communities of the Yampa Valley are practical for political purposes but not for economic ones. The Yampa Valley is one watershed from Toponas to Dinosaur linked by a river as well as by a people who live, work and play in the valley it made.
Awareness is curative. I would propose that anyone who has a spirit of stewardship toward our local communities should approach this debate with the mind-set that no one knows everything about anything. We need to have an intense level of curiosity about this topic knowing we can only satisfy that curiosity by a willingness to listen and learn. We need to feel confident that we can set a direction for our community because we are the only ones who should or can. The future direction of our community and how we will get there will be born among those who engage this debate.
Let this debate begin in earnest this year. Let us use the Economic Summit scheduled for May 28 and 29 as the forum for this debate. Let's be sure to invite those from other communities in the Yampa Valley as well as other communities nationally that have struggled with these same issues and have found strategies.
In this area, we are all blind beggars looking for food, and I know we can all help each other.
Scott L. Ford chairs the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council. He
can be reached at email@example.com.