Summit Co. forum tackles economic diversity

Andy Bruner
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Economic diversification was the buzz term on people’s lips at Thursday’s quarterly business breakfast sponsored by the Summit Chamber of Commerce.

Members of the business community and representatives of each of Summit County’s four major towns gathered at Breckenridge Town Hall to discuss how to expand the types of area businesses and the sources of revenue for town governments.

The town representatives agreed on the need to bring more year-round businesses to Summit County, though they laid out several obstacles to that goal, like the prevalence of temporary residents and town budgets’ reliance on sales tax.

Tony Harris, a member of the Breckenridge Economic Development Advisory Committee, said Summit County can’t “reinvent the wheel.” In response to a question about bringing nonretail businesses, such as high-tech industries, to the area, Harris said a lack of undeveloped land and property costs make Summit County less desirable for businesses outside the retail sector.

At the same time, Harris said, Summit County’s economic future needs to include a wider variety of industries. “Nobody wants a bunch more T-shirt shops,” he said.

Bob Bloch, chair of Frisco’s EDAC, said Summit County can’t abandon tourism as its main industry anytime soon. Instead, “We need to find ways to develop the economy in the shoulder season,” he said.

But there’s also a need for staple businesses catering to locals, the representatives said. Ryan Hyland, assistant to the Silverthorne town manager, said Silverthorne is actively seeking a new grocery, while Dillon town manager Devin Granbery said Dillon’s top economic priority is revitalizing the downtown core with retail.

Bloch said there’s controversy over offering incentives to attract new businesses, because some say it’s unfair to current businesses. “There’s one field of thought that we should be supporting our existing businesses rather than trying to bring new ones in,” he said.

“Everyone struggles with that,” Hyland added. “When you’re out there recruiting a grocery store, your current businesses are saying, ‘What about us?'”

Granbery said the solution may be to offer incentives for both incoming businesses and successful current ones. “If you’re doing one side, you have to do the other too,” he said.

But for new businesses to profit in Summit County, we need to decrease the commuter workforce who take their paychecks home to outside the county, the representatives said. All agreed that adding affordable housing is key to achieving that goal.

Another obstacle to expanding beyond retail is the fact that sales tax makes up a huge portion of some towns’ revenue. Hyland said sales tax pays for 70 percent of Silverthorne’s budget. Adding or raising other taxes, such as property taxes, would help, but is unpopular with the public, representatives said.

Hyland said the main concern is the effect an economic downturn could have on Silverthorne’s budget if it continues to rely so heavily on sales tax. “Things are good now, but who knows where we’ll be two years from now?” he said.

The four town representatives said their communities are already working together on some of these issues, like offering affordable housing, and that more collaboration can improve the county’s economy further.