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Big expansion, big problems

The Jan. 12 Denver Post includes a story titled “Steamboat’s economic engine, small businesses chugging along despite decline in skier visits,” describing a host of Steamboat businesses that make bicycles, fleece clothing, sleeping bags, a snowboard-boot lacing system, fishing equipment, sportswear accessories, plastic drift boats, honey-based energy gel, wool clothes, and outdoor wear for dogs. Interesting: Manufacturing is succeeding in a tourist town.

We might compare the Steamboat strategy, if I may call it that, to the economic-development strategy we seem to be pursuing in the upper Roaring Fork Valley. Our approach seems to emphasize expanding tourist facilities (e.g. St. Regis, Highlands base, Snowmass Base Village) to attract more tourists. We accede to this approach despite a 30-year consensus that expansion brings big problems.

Our strategy is based on two underlying assumptions: One: Expansion generates more tourists. I won’t address that one here. The second assumption is that increasing the number of tourists is The Way to strengthen the local economy; stated simply: more tourist days equals prosperity.



What if, instead, we sought business diversity, both by nurturing existing businesses and by making this a place conducive to entrepreneurs whose businesses fit here? How would we do that? I’m not sure. Affordable business space might be an excellent complement to affordable housing ” not easy to do and not guaranteed to achieve the desired results. But neither is building more tourist facilities a guarantee of desired results.

As a community, a valley-wide community, we don’t tend to talk about these wider prospects. Instead, we forge ahead assuming more of the same will work for us. Wasn’t that the miners’ strategy?



Michael Kinsley

Old Snowmass


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