Colorado lieutenant governor headlines Steamboat’s Economic Summit

Brian Lewandowski, associate director of the Business Research Division at University of Colorado Boulder, speaks to the crowd at the Allbright Family Auditorium Friday afternoon during the 2018 economic summit in Steamboat Springs. (Photograph by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With a lineup of speakers who spoke to the theme, “Backcountry to Boardroom: The Business of the Outdoors,” Colorado Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne may have seemed out of place at Steamboat Spring’s annual Economic Summit.

“It’s great to be here,” Lynne said to a packed house inside Allbright Family Auditorium on Friday. “Who wouldn’t want to take the day driving to Steamboat and just enjoying our great environment and then being able to connect with you about the important economic issues facing our state.”

Lynne said she not only enjoys Colorado’s great outdoors but loves it. She has climbed all of Colorado’s 14ers, participated in Ride the Rockies and enjoys going on ski challenges around the world. And she really captured the heart of the Steamboat crowd when she made it known that she had skied the steep pitched slopes of Howelsen Hill.

Colorado Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne was one of the featured speakers at the 2018 Economic Summit, sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Chamber. (Photograph by John F. Russell)

During her speech, which lasted about 30 minutes, Lynne talked about what the Governor’s Office has done from an economic perspective across the state and, particularly, in rural Colorado. She spoke about some of the grants Routt County has received, and she also touched on health care and talked about the impending departure of Smartwool, which was announced in August.

“The whole VF negotiation was complicated,” Lynne said. “They made a decision based on looking at many communities and all the factors. We are definitely aware that the jobs here are good paying jobs — in fact higher than the local average — and the Office of Economic Development that does a lot of the work across the state around bringing companies in and retaining companies has already started working with local officials here to identify talent pools, to think about how we may support businesses here as well as attract additional businesses.”

The lieutenant governor acknowledged that it is a challenge for mountain communities, like Steamboat, to attract and keep businesses. Companies based in rural communities like Steamboat often face higher costs of living, higher health care costs and the problems that come from being removed from major urban areas, Lynne said.

Lynne said outdoor industry plays a key role in driving a mountain community’s economy, but she said economies also need to be diverse. She pointed to a film grant Steamboat received through the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Blueprint 2.0 Film Festival initiative as one example of the Governor’s Office helping to promote economic diversity.

“We need to make sure we diversify the economy, at the same time, focusing on the beautiful outdoors and all the great recreational opportunities,” Lynne said.

John Bristol, economic development director for the Steamboat Springs Chamber that sponsors the annual Economic Summit, said, while this year’s theme focused on the outdoor industry, the summit had a more far-reaching appeal. He said Lynne’s appearance was important in order to provide the audience with a statewide perspective on economic development.

“I think it is always important to hear from those at the top,” Bristol said. “We need to hear from the people that are guiding the policies and recommending the changes.”

Other speakers at the summit included: Luis Benitez, director of the Governor’ Office of Outdoor Recreation; Elizabeth Garner, a demographer with the state of Colorado; Brian Lewandowski, associate director of the business research division at University of Colorado Boulder; and Jessica Valand, director of Colorado Workforce/CDLE.

The summit also featured a panel discussion with local industry leaders from Harvest Skis, Steamboat Powdercats, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger and a keynote speech by Sarah Shrader, owner and co-founder of Bonsai Design.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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