In the past few days, a couple people have pulled me over to talk about the local economy.
Here’s what I know about the economy in Gunnison County. In general, we don’t talk about it much until sales tax revenue starts falling, it gets harder to sell a building and Elk Avenue feels a tad too empty. And then we really talk about it.
Here’s what I’m hearing a lot of: We, in Crested Butte and elsewhere in Gunnison County, have created an unwelcoming regulatory environment with our “no to everything” attitude that prevents new businesses from coming here, people from building their homes here, and tourists from spending their dollars here. In order to succeed, we must allow the free market to work, which, in a nutshell, means grow or die.
Of course, it’s human nature to believe that the good times will keep on rolling. And when they stop coming, that’s when we deal with it.
In the past five years, do I believe that we’ve created an overly harsh regulatory environment? Do I think we’ve done everything we can to stimulate our local economy? No and no.
Even with some imperfect laws on the books, I don’t believe that our slowdown is a symptom of local political decisions. For the most part, we had the same rules in play during the biggest economic boom this county has seen in recent history. Rather than a so-called harsh regulatory environment, I see recent developments in our economy as a result of the nationwide mortgage crisis, high oil prices, and the national economic downturn, which may or may not be a recession. It’s those big red lights that make people re-think whether to build their second home this year, whether they should go on vacation and whether it’s time to risk a new business venture.
Of course, Gunnison County and Crested Butte need to do a good job inviting in the business that can happen now.
The Town Council has been considering two measures that will regulate business—one would oversee timeshare development in town and the second, if drafted, would allow real estate agents to place open house signs on town right-of-ways. The first should be considered carefully. We clearly don’t want development that will be out of character with our community or that will drain business from Elk Avenue. Still, the Town Council should remember that Crested Butte needs more hotel beds—even ones that are available for only part of the year.
The second ordinance should be passed—if signs get out of hand, the town can speak to the real estate community. If it gets really out of hand, a future Town Council can change the sign code again.
Here’s what I believe—there are no bad guys here. Each of us is devoted to creating a community that can be enjoyed not only by us but by our children and great-grandchildren. We also want a place where we are, and our children can be gainfully employed.
Of course, we have different views of how to best accomplish that delicate task. But it’s the sameness that should be remembered as we move into the future.
—Aleesha Towns

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