In trying to chart our community's future, city, county and business leaders should consider the messages emanating from the 2003 Economic Summit.
The prevailing topic at the summit was balancing the community's retail needs in a way that enhances its character. A summary of some of the views presented at the summit:
n In gauging contributions made to a community, national chains can't compete with local businesses, noted Lyman Orton of the Vermont Country Store. Money spent in a locally owned store has an impact that is 345 times as great as money spent at a national chain, Orton said.
n Communities must be distinctive and unique in order to be competitive in the 21st century, said Don Rypkema, a consultant with Place Economics. Allowing the proliferation of national chains creates "Generica" -- a community that is neither distinctive nor unique, but rather looks just like every other town.
n Steamboat Springs residents frequently shop at big-box retailers in other towns, costing the city valuable sales tax revenue, according to a Consumer Preference Survey.
n Frank Gray, the director of community and economic development in Lakewood, said towns can work with national chains in ways that benefit the communities and their businesses.
n The economies of the communities in Northwest Colorado are intertwined, according to a workshop on the state of the region. The different communities -- Hayden, Oak Creek, Craig and Steamboat Springs -- are pieces that play different roles in the larger Northwest Colorado regional economy.
While they had different perspectives on national chains, Orton, Rypkema and Gray agreed that communities should deal with the national chains on the communities' terms.
Orton suggested crafting a definitive strategy specifically for dealing with big-box retailers. Gray suggested innovative steps used by other communities, such as designating half of all sales tax proceeds from big-box chains to downtown improvements and hiring architects to design a Wal-Mart that conforms to the community's building standards.
Garry Baker, a planner from Montrose, discussed how Montrose chose to embrace national retailers as a means of creating a regional shopping draw and generating new sales tax revenues that have benefited the community. While Montrose's approach does not necessarily translate well for Steamboat, it could serve as a model for towns such as Hayden and Craig.
Ultimately, the Economic Summit did not provide a crystal clear answer to the question of how to remain a distinctive community while plugging retail leaks. However, the ideas offered at the summit do offer a guideline of sorts.
As Orton suggested, we must have a community strategy that properly values the contributions of locally owned businesses. And as Gray said, we can't stick our heads in the sand and pretend that we aren't losing retail shopping dollars to national chains in other communities. Ultimately, the community has to find the right retail mix of locally owned stores and national chains.
Gray and Rypkema noted that Steamboat, which has been able to differentiate itself from other communities throughout its history, is in position to be a model of how to address retail needs in a way that benefits the community as a whole.
We should seize that opportunity.