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Welcome to the ‘burbs

Speaker: Technology allows rapid growth in resort towns

Steamboat Springs is a suburb, said Jonathan Schechter, who has researched growth in resort communities.

“These are the new suburbs, but they are virtual suburbs,” said Schechter, referring to a group of nine resort towns, including Steamboat, that experienced the fastest rates of growth in the country. “People choose to live where they want to live, rather than where they have to.”

Schechter spoke to a packed room of about 200 people Monday night at Centennial Hall. Schechter is the executive director of the Charture Institute in Jackson, Wyo. The nonprofit organization compiles information on rapidly growing and popular resort communities to aid officials in making decisions.

Schechter was invited to hold the two-day seminar, which continues at 8 a.m. today at Centennial Hall, by the city of Steamboat Springs, Routt County Economic Development Cooperative, Main Street Steamboat Springs and Yampa Valley Partners.

“You need a guy like this to really galvanize people,” said Mike Larson, a Mountain Valley Bank banker and Yampa Valley Partners board president.

Schechter presented startling statistics to the audience members before they broke into small groups to decide what qualities were most important in their communities.

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The small think tanks were similar to what officials do on a regular basis in Jackson as part of the Sustaining Jackson Hole initiative.

Much of the data used in those discussions is derived from Schechter’s organization, which has examined historical data and trends.

Schechter found rapid growth in technology allowed people to work remotely. Also, rising incomes, population growth, and a shift away from purely tourism-based economies contributed to communities like Steamboat adding as many people in the 1990s as had lived here in the 1960s.

“This boom is not going to bust : unless we screw up the reason people want to move here,” Schechter said.

Good data are critical.

“The key is measuring everything,” Schechter said.

But compiling data and implementing programs that encourage sustainability isn’t enough.

Schechter said Jackson, the richest community per capita in America, recently implemented One Percent for the Tetons, a program where businesses give 1 percent of revenues to a fund, which is dispersed in grants. There are 50 businesses participating, and $25 million has been raised, he said.

Many described Schechter’s talk as eye opening.

“We all have the sense that there is a lot of change going on, and what Jonathan has helped us do is realize that,” said Steamboat City Council President Ken Brenner. “The big thing I heard was to collect data.”

There is one piece of data that Brenner could point to that makes it clear growth is not slowing in Steamboat.

“We’re going to hit a billion dollars in real estate sales this year,” Brenner said. “That just points to that trend that people want to come here.”

Schechter told the audience that they had the ability to control the change.

“Please don’t despair, these are tough decisions we are facing,” Schechter said. “These are hard questions, and there is no precedent for dealing with them.”