Change keeps Vail on its toes

Remember back in the late 1990s when it seemed the economy was this steamroller that would never stop? Everything would be online, and the Internet would replace all forms of human communication. We would all telecommute, outsourcing some of the more unpleasant jobs to India while we purchased everything from wine and pet food to books and music over the magical Internet.

Well, all bubbles burst at some point, but sometimes when you’re in the midst of a particularly happy one, it’s hard to remember that. Why, just a year ago it seemed like the real estate market in the High Country could only go higher. It was only a matter of time before the median home price topped $1 million. All the folks in the housing industry could bask in the glory while the schlubs who try to call this place home 12 months a year could forget about home ownership and get used to commuting from Leadville or wherever.

Compared to other markets, ours has proven remarkably resilient. Sure, things have dropped down quite a bit, but the millionaires and billionaires are still keeping the numbers artificially elevated. After all, if you’ve got the dough to fly your Gulfstream into the Eagle airport, what do you care if gas for the limo is $5 a gallon?



Kicking around some of the factors that will likely influence our economy in the coming year, we came up with our usual annual prediction that real estate, illegal immigration and overall stress on the middle class will be big again. The increasingly weakening dollar has become a bigger issue, with the benefit of increasing international visitors somewhat offsetting the negatives inherent in currency devaluation. Also somewhat new on the radar is the increasing focus on “green” or sustainable practices in a number of different areas ” from construction to how local government manages energy use to individual companies paying more attention. In this realm, it’s interesting to see that, in the vacuum of leadership from Washington and Denver, many communities are taking the matter into their own hands and coming up with innovative solutions and practices.

Our internal “environmental scan” of things that will impact our business is an interesting annual exercise since it compels us to compare what we were talking about a year ago. Perennial things like immigration and housing costs are constants we get used to thinking about, but the newer things rising to the surface always remind us of the adage about how change is the one constant we can always rely upon. Five-dollar gas was almost inconceivable a year ago, even though experts were warning of it. And who could foresee institutions like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Washington Mutual, Bear Stearns and Wachovia going belly-up ” or close to it? This kind of doom-laden financial news is enough to make even the most optimistic free-marketer sit up and wonder if a little regulation in the financial industry might be a good thing.



A new study by the Center for Integrative Environmental Research at the University of Maryland concludes climate change could shorten the ski season by 30 days and cause Colorado to shed 4,500 jobs and $375 million in revenue by 2017. (See this column online at http://www.vaildaily.com for a copy of the report.) Thirty fewer days in a ski season in a decade sounds pretty close to devastating, but if it’s true, once again we’ll have to look at some serious tweaks in our here-and-now and how to manage it.

No biggie, right? After all, we’re used to change around here.

Vail Daily, July 24, 2008

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