Economic Summit focuses on change

Summit Daily News
Summit County, CO


January 11, 2007

BRECKENRIDGE By 2025, Colorado is projected to have a population of 5.2 million, according to Gary Severson, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and panelist at Thursday's Summit County Chamber 3rd annual Economic Summit. Severson also said Summit County's population is projected to rise from its current 28,000 mark to 48,000 full-time residents in that same time period.

It's no wonder the Economic Summit's keynote speaker, Alan Parisse, framed his talk around embracing change.

"The people in this room probably don't need convincing that the world is changing," Parisse said at the beginning of his speech. He went on to cite local issues such as traffic congestion, affordable housing, and workforce and immigration issues as drivers in the county's future.

Parisse challenged the audience to question the accepted way of doing things in all sectors, saying, "It's not did it work, not has it worked, but how do we have to be tomorrow?"

Panel members framed their comments around Parisse's energetic, future-thinking speech. Imbued with the idea that "our job is to be pulled by the future, not held by the past," close-to-home economic sustainability issues such as Interstate 70 traffic congestion and forest health issues were discussed, as well as expanding Summit County's reach to global markets.

Panelist Purnima Voria, founder and CEO of the National U.S. India Chamber of Commerce, opened up the panelist discussion with an until-recently distant prospect. She encouraged audience members to attract the Indian market to Summit County. She said Indians would latch on to the prestige of a Colorado ski vacation. Furthermore, the High Country's economic sustainability could be buttressed by serving as a filming location for Indian movie producers.

"This region is just like Kashmir," Voria said, referring to the terrorism- and violence-wracked mountainous region in her home country. "Indians could film in Colorado instead."

I-70 hurdles

Before a long-term plan for international consumers can be counted on for Summit County, many panelists stressed infrastructure needs, such as I-70 congestion alleviation. Severson said that in the past, the county exported its major products - gold and ranching products - but now, 66 percent of the dollars in Summit County are coming from summer and winter recreation and second homes. This means today's dollars are imported, and as the major tourism facilitators, traffic infrastructure and forest health need to remain intact.

A few different I-70 solutions were brought up, with funding cited as the biggest implementation challenge for all ideas. Panelist David Hiller, representative for U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D, said there was not a lot of federal money to fund major changes right now. In keeping with Parisse's positive approach to change, Hiller said the flip-side of the lack of federal funds was "not getting locked into more of the same." Because of the lack of money, more concrete and more lanes won't happen, putting all options on the table, Hiller said.

Panelist Andrew Merritt, representative for U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R, went a step further, saying that alternative funding sources are needed. If gas usage goes down, so do taxes from the purchase of gas. Other transportation funding sources are needed to make improvements in the transportation arena.

Severson said a consensus approach was required for the I-70 challenge. He cited other transportation options, such as alternate routes and transit, along with non-motorized transportation and aviation.

Hiller agreed, but said one thing is for sure: "America's love affair with individual and family transportation will not evaporate. We must keep building and maintaining our roads."

Forest health management

Panelists also expected the public to continue to latch on to one of Summit County's greatest resources - the forest. And, as with the I-70 issue, they said the biggest hurdle to maintaining a sustainable forest is funding. In keeping with the Economic Summit's theme of collaboration, Severson suggested reintroducing the private sector into forest management through sustainable companies that can help with funding. He used Coors in Golden as an example, who, instead of using natural gas (as they are now) to dry beer ingredients, could switch to wood pellets. That money could in turn be put back into forest management.

The current government funding situation will continue, according to Severson. "We can't keep dividing a shrinking pie," he said.

Hiller agreed. "If we don't have economic development in the way of the wood product industry, we don't have a way to fund the actions of the forest," he said.

This smaller approach to big problems was directed at audience members throughout the Economic Summit.

"It's up to you to define the balance that will best serve the local communities," Hiller said.