Inside Breckenridge, Colorado

Region VIII covers six states, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. Each state has its own unique culture and small business presence, but the region shares a lot of similarities due to the abundance of land. They share climate exposure and geographical mountain range. Principal industries that share land not only include agriculture, ranching, and mining, but tourism from fishing, rafting, and especially skiing. These hubs anchored by the skiing industry can face numerous challenges related to growth and sustainability that public resources can help alleviate. 

Recently, Region VIII Advocate John Hart toured Breckenridge, Colorado, a small but growing mountain ski town in the Colorado ski corridor, with SBA Regional Administrator Aikta Marcoulier and SBDC Northwest Regional Director Erin McCusky. The purpose of the trip was to meet with the local town officials, members of the Summit County Chamber of Commerce, the local tourism office, and several local small entities.  

Meetings with Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula and Town Manager Rick Holman yielded several growing concerns that can occur when a small town that is centered on a high value industry continues to grow and expand. One of the dilemmas facing public officials is providing access to housing, especially affordable housing for the working and middle class. With extremely limited stock, real estate prices in the mountain communities are high. This continues to attract wealth and investment opportunities that skyrocket prices and forces the working and middle class out of the location entirely. 

This becomes a larger problem for the main industry that cannot find enough workforce hires to fill all the operational and support positions. In addition, secondary and tertiary small businesses are affected. These restaurants, bars, shops, transportation workers as well as electricians, plumbers, and construction workers cannot afford to live anywhere in these towns or neighboring areas. This also carries through to social support areas, especially childcare. Mayor Mamula acknowledged the ever-increasing amount the city must provide for adequate workforce childcare and subsidized housing. 

The Office of Advocacy (Advocacy) is concerned with workforce shortages regarding the immigration visa fee increase, as well as past capping or reduction in visa numbers. This has a huge effect on the workforce labor pool in these areas, particularly seasonal resort workers as well as trade workers, electricians, plumbers, and construction workers. 

In addition, Advocacy is concerned with the Department of Justice’s new ADA website accessibility proposal for state and local governments and its impact on townships like Breckenridge. The issue resulted in acknowledging the rule’s impact on the township. Also, the government must provide assurance that they have already taken the necessary steps to comply with the new rule’s mandates. 

Subsequent meetings with the Summit County Chamber of Commerce and the Breckenridge Tourism Board members reiterated the same need for housing and workforce development. They also highlighted a need for state sponsored water rights management and other forestry management concerns.  

Wildfires are a major concern in the mountain communities and are a growing threat year after year. The Department of Labor’s overtime proposal to increase the “white collar” overtime exemption were discussed at length with both the Chamber and Tourism Board. The Chamber and Tourism Board requested follow-up on impacted entities. 

Further meetings with several small business owners, Knome Real Estate, Stay Loci, and High Country Photography centered on the same query about the impact and need for government resources in the local community.  The private community wants to increase their ability to use housing stock for shorter term and higher profitable revenues. However, the public interest of having longer term rentals and a greater stock of housing for workforce and lower to middle class residents is growing. Most of the discussion revolved around local solutions, including municipal code and local regulations with Advocacy issues on immigrants’ visa still resounding with a big impact on the local workforce. 

Interactions with small businesses, small municipalities, trade associations and chambers provide the opportunity for Advocacy to better understand the issues and concerns they face in daily operations. These interactions provide public resources for the small business with Advocacy presenting current regulatory concerns and providing feedback. Armed with a better understanding of the regulations, this can potentially help the business thrive and grow. 

John Hart currently serves as the Regional Advocate for Region VIII covering Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. Please feel free to contact and our other regional advocates to share your small business’ regulatory burdens or concerns.