Chamber column: Our unlikely road to economic development | PostIndependent.com
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Chamber column: Our unlikely road to economic development

You might say it was Dave Sheriff’s doing. He was chamber board chair in the year 2000. We were winding down a board retreat, and the 15 business people in the room had spent the last eight hours brainstorming and setting goals and objectives.

We were tired and hungry, and it wasn’t over yet. Though a lot of time had been spent discussing a vision statement for the chamber, we hadn’t settled on anything. The statement needed to be brief enough for everyone to remember yet deep enough to be significant. After all, we were designing something to carry us through the New Millennium.

Dave is like the E.F. Hutton of board members. (You know the old commercial, when E.F. Hutton talks, everybody listens?) He’s a thoughtful guy who doesn’t say much during the discussion, but when he does speak you know it will be something brilliant.



Dave clears his throat. We sit up straight in anticipation of Dave’s E.F. Hutton moment, and he announces, “Our vision is to be the ideal mountain community.”

Wow! Big smiles all around. It’s perfect.



So as the next 15 years go by we do just what Dave suggested. Not just the chamber mind you, but all of our community partners. We pledge to be at the table or out in the field for anyone buying into the culture of excellence that we foster, and we deliver.

Collaborators were plentiful:

Valley View Hospital, which built a heart and vascular center and a cancer center, earned countless awards for patient care and ultimately built a facility and attracted a medical team that rivals big city hospitals; Colorado Mountain College, which began offering the third-most-affordable four-year degrees in the nation, built new facilities at all of its campuses, and was recognized by the likes of CNN Money, the Aspen Institute and U.S. Department of Education; the Roaring Fork School District, which garnered sports, DECA and Mock Trial championships, Colorado Legacy Advanced Placement Programs and statewide teacher recognition; the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which would build the Rio Grande Trail to earn the Colorado Outstanding Community Tourism Initiative as well as earn awards for best transit director, marketing, budgeting and Best Large Transit Agency; city, county and businesses leaders who envisioned and constructed the Community Broadband Network, a world-class whitewater park, the expansion of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, a new Iron Mountain Hot Springs and the award-winning Spa of the Rockies; the Center for the Arts and visual and performing arts community, which led to our being named No. 1 in arts vibrancy for the U.S.; car dealerships and countless businesses that have expanded, remodeled and relocated and who provide jobs to support our citizens and pay taxes to support our community infrastructure; local media who contribute and care as well as report and who win accolades of their own; the Downtown Development Authority, which made Year 2000 dreams like public/private parking garages, al fresco dining on Seventh Street and a vibrant downtown possible; and Clean Energy Economy for the Region, which proved that saving energy is good business and stimulated the economy by encouraging $14 million in project investments and another $1 million in cumulative energy savings.

As for the chamber, I guess we did pretty well ourselves. Our tourism, travel and communication awards are too numerous to mention, and we were named 2013 National Chamber of the Year for civic leadership.

How does all this relate to economic development? Back in 2000 economic development meant recruiting businesses with incentives like tax credits or providing vacant buildings and free rent. Glenwood Springs did not offer much of that. With meager resources we didn’t think becoming an official economic development agency made sense.

But fast forward to 2015 — economic developers have coined the term “sense of place” to explain the reason entrepreneurs and Millennials move to places where they want to live and then find a job or start a business. A Sonoran Institute study recently recognized us for our “sense of place,” saying we excel in areas of recreation, education, the arts, trails and amenities, health care, public transit and quality of life.

Economic development was an unexpected byproduct of our pursuit of excellence. In the process of becoming an ideal mountain community, we unknowingly developed the perfect economic development strategy.

When people ask me the secret to our success I say you just need to excel at everything you do. It is so simple. And it is so hard.

With partners like ours, it is so rewarding.

Marianne Virgili is president and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.


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