Letter: Move past tourism | AspenTimes.com

Letter: Move past tourism

The 2013 Economic Sustainability report is an excellent report that I applaud the city and chamber for conducting. Our town has made encouraging progress on each of the five goals outlined in the report except for one: Expand economic support beyond tourism.

Under the heading of “Jobs and Income,” the study reports that the story of Pitkin County from 2002 to 2012 is one of economic stagnation and, by some metrics, slow decline. The real value of personal income, adjusted for inflation, declined significantly during that period.

Our valley needs economic-development leadership. We spend millions each year on housing our workforce; why don’t we spend a fraction of our resources to retain and recruit businesses to allow locals more career opportunities and upward mobility?

Two recommendations for economic development:

1) Look at recruiting businesses on a valleywide basis. I’ll take it on the chin for this comment, but think of Aspen as Manhattan with the five boroughs of Snowmass, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood — different businesses or industries may fit better in different communities, but job and wage growth has a positive effect for the entire valley.

We shouldn’t buy into the notion that our cost of living is too expensive and we’re too isolated. The median home price in Boulder is more than it is in Basalt and Carbondale, and Boulder’s job market is booming. Our air service between Aspen, Eagle and Grand Junction continues to expand each year, and with technology, more businesses can operate from anywhere.

2) Facilitate and encourage second-home owners, who are becoming a larger driving force in our local economy, to set up shop in the valley. We have the benefit of second-home owners wanting to spend more time here — let’s make that possible by helping them do more business here.

One reason why we need more middle-income jobs: Statistically, real estate is the largest employment sector in the valley after accommodation and food service. There are more than 850 licensed brokers in the valley that share commissions on more than $1.5 billion of real estate transactions a year. The elephant in the room in the brokerage industry is the attack on commissions. Auctions, flat-rate commissions and for-sale-by-owner platforms are becoming more and more common. How are we going to replace the jobs and income that are threatened by this trend?

It’s not about stirring population growth in our valley; it’s about providing opportunity for locals to grow and ultimately afford to live here. Being more than a tourist-based economy is possible and vital to our sustainability. Let’s find a way to nurture economic development.

Peter Grenney