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Better together in the Roaring Fork Valley

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By Peter Grenney

Last week’s front-page news about David Perry signing off from Aspen Skiing Company after fifteen years got me thinking: Is the departure of Aspen Skiing Company’s number two a one-off, or is it the sign of more such relocations to come as the new “Better Together” Intrawest/Mammoth Resorts/Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows conglomerate takes shape?

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Let’s assume for a second it’s the latter. Should our valley be concerned? Is it possible that a piece of the new mega-conglomerate formed by Aspen Ski Co. and KSL could be located in Carbondale or Glenwood Springs, providing career opportunities and middle-class incomes for so many valley residents? If not, should we consider what we would need to do to help make it happen?

Keeping as many SkiCo employees and however big a part of its new conglomerate in the valley would be a win-win for the Roaring Fork Valley community and the business.

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Here’s why: The demographics of our valley are trending towards becoming a retirement community. Middle class professional jobs creates more opportunity for young valley residents to return from college to a career that will help balance our demographics and our economy. The new conglomerate’s presence would spur and support existing ancillary businesses in tech, hospitality, environmental sciences, law, marketing, etc. The opportunity for upward mobility relieves pressure on affordable housing and recent wage growth in our valley has been -2 percent when at the same time in Denver it’s the second highest in the country. It’s not about growth, it’s about opportunity for existing residents and diversification.

Why locate in the Roaring Fork Valley?

Since lift skiing began in Aspen in 1946 the operations have always been held in private ownership, and for the past 24 years the Aspen Skiing Company has been owned by the Crown family. Many valley residents wake each morning thankful that the valley’s primary employer is not a large publicly traded company. We’ve been lucky. By almost all accounts, Ski Co. has been good to the community and good to its employees.

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Now part of the mission of the new mega conglomerate is to take the best of what’s been developed in the Roaring Fork Valley and export it, by way of Denver, to the other newly acquired resorts. This includes not just environmental policy and community values, but blue prints from the Limelight Hotel, on-mountain restaurants, and many other facilities and programs born and rooted in this valley.

But replicating a design from a blueprint doesn’t always produce the same results. Patagonia’s products wouldn’t carry the same soul and integrity if it had moved its headquarters to Los Angeles and only kept a small office in its hometown, Ventura, CA. Community and place can’t be extracted, kept alive in a petri dish, and then mass produced.

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How it’s possible

The argument for locating the new conglomerate in Denver is tough to challenge, because KSL, the Denver-based private equity firm, and Intrawest are already based in brand new offices in the affluent Cherry Creek district and next to the thriving redeveloped Union Station. But the cost of living argument between the Roaring Fork Valley and the Front Range should not be a factor. The median home value in Denver now, after its meteoric rise, is $385,100. In Garfield County, which includes Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, the median home value is $361,800.

The cost of doing business, however, is a legitimate reason. Denver has an international airport. The Roaring Fork Valley has Pitkin County and Eagle County airports and Grand Junction is not far away. But not every employee needs to travel and in today’s virtual world more can be accomplished remotely. More importantly, when customers think of you as “a ski company run by skiers” being located next to a ski mountain should be more meaningful than the proximity to an international airport.

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Perhaps the most compelling argument for locating in Denver is its business-friendly environment. The Colorado and Denver Offices of Economic Development offer millions of dollars in incentives for companies to bring jobs to the Front Range. Ironically, the strategy that they’ve been so successful executing has been recruiting companies not to relocate their headquarters but to bring a substantial portion of their workforce to the Front Range. The Roaring Fork Valley should consider this approach. Offer incentives to keep or locate a portion of the new conglomerate employees in the valley.

Better together

To initiate the ask, I respectfully petition the Crown Family to locate 25% of the new conglomerate workforce in the Roaring Fork Valley. In return, the communities of the Roaring Fork Valley will pledge the support and resources necessary to accept this privilege. Let’s defy ordinary and become better together.

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