20 Under 40: John Bristol works to improve Routt County communities from ‘Toponas to Columbine’
July 23, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As a self-described "economic development nerd," John Bristol takes his morning coffee with labor statistics and Census data, and he sets himself a time limit.
"That's just a never-ending rabbit hole, so I try not to go down too far, like try to keep it to an hour," Bristol said.
If you go
When: 5 to 7 p.m. July 26
Where: Haymaker Patio Grill
Cost: $35, $15 for Young Professionals Network members
Bristol works across Routt County as economic development director of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, and he said he got into economic development without realizing it.
He grew up in Chaffee County, and when the county's largest taxpayer, the Climax Mine, decreased production for a few years before closing in 1987, he saw how the county's economic decline impacted the community. The school system lost students and funding. People moved out of the community, leaving empty homes.
"It's just such an economic shock," Bristol said. "What that does to families and the structure of the community is devastating."
It was during his service in the Peace Corps that Bristol started to see how economic development and an economy made up of diverse industries can improve the livelihood of communities. Bristol was in the Peace Corps for three years over two terms. In Peru, he worked to help develop businesses. In El Salvador, he worked with the tourism bureau.
"It dawned on me, actually when I was in El Salvador,” he said. “I was like 'this is what I should be doing. This is what I've always done,' but I didn't know that's what it was."
In the time in between, Bristol worked in government, most recently helping Colorado businesses enter into international markets in Governor John Hickenlooper's office in Denver.
"I just got tired of the city. I grew up on a ranch in Buena Vista and love everything that Colorado mountain communities are," he said.
In spring 2017, Bristol moved to the Yampa Valley, where he has roots. One branch of his ancestors homesteaded on the Elk River, while another branch of his family delivered coal in Routt County. He grew up regularly visiting his grandparents in Steamboat.
Today, as economic development director, he works to improve the quality of life and economic wellbeing of communities across Routt County, "from Toponas to Columbine" by working to keep businesses in the area and encourage diverse economic growth.
His boss Chamber CEO Kara Stoller wrote that Bristol is an "incredible collaborator not only in Steamboat Springs but across Routt County, Northwest Colorado and at the state level."
"You can’t really draw a line around the economy," Bristol said. "If Craig does well, Steamboat does well, and vice versa. You really have to take a big regional picture of it, as much as possible."