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Summit Chamber of Commerce is making history

CONSTANCE JONES
special to the daily
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Two hundred business and community leaders came together in the mid-1960s to discuss the future of the Blue River Valley. Green Mountain Reservoir was completed 20 years prior, Lake Dillon Dam was nearly 5 years old and the proposed route for I-70 had been designated through Summit County.

Described as the first historical countywide Chamber meeting, held at the Courthouse in Breckenridge ” the only place large enough to hold a gathering of this size, would shape commerce over the next 20 years and eventually become the Summit County Chamber of Commerce officially chartered in 1981.

These visionary men and women understood the need for a “unifying” voice for business and industry and were the architects for the public/private partnerships that followed.

“The Chamber History” by J.D. “Colorado” Farr published in 1991 states, at the time the Chamber was being formed to help promote the area, Arapahoe Basin had been operating for a number of years; Breckenridge Ski Corp was founded by Kansans and had been open for 5 years. There was talk of a ski area near the old town of Keystone. Steamboat, Vail and Aspen were all booming and Winter Park was owned by the City of Denver and the Granddaddy of big ski areas.

County Commissioners hired a county manager, the first one outside of Metro Denver and set to work on planning the future. The first countywide planning started way ahead of Eagle, Pitkin or Routt counties. Water quality and various sewage systems were built way ahead of the state of Colorado. These factors along with the outside money that came in to develop the Breckenridge, Keystone and Copper Mountain ski areas made Summit County come alive.

By 1970, we had three Chambers going ” one for Frisco which had been billed as the snowmobile capitol of the world in the late 60s; one in Dillon trying to capitalize on the Denver reservoir called Lake Dillon; and one in Breckenridge hoping to help that town grow from being Colorado’s first town west of the Continental Divide to being one of Colorado’s best resort towns.

There was virtually no money at that time and according to Farr, Chamber officers did all the work themselves, used their staffs to answer mail and to handle information requests. They hosted travel groups, met visiting Chamber groups and held fundraisers.

Frisco and Dillon were smaller communities and periodic efforts were made to merge them. Copper and Keystone operated as self-contained resort communities and did not have close ties to Dillon, Silverthorne or Frisco. The opening of the tunnel in the early 1970s made the operation of a Chamber and information booth a necessity. The Frisco and Dillon/Silverthorne groups were working together pretty well.

During the 90s, the Chamber continued to move with the times and earned the title of “Survivor” as it faced many challenges along the way due to the ever changing economic and political landscape. Executive Directors Phil McKinney, Lynne Skall and Jack Taylor along with committed volunteers contributed to the evolution of the Summit Chamber and set new benchmarks with programs, policies and projects to meet the needs of a growing membership.

Over the past 20 months, a refocus on commerce and business to business benefits and services has resulted in refining our mission to better serve our growing and diverse membership. We are proud to be a founding partner of the 2005-2006 Leadership Summit program designed for emerging leaders in collaboration with the Keystone Center, the Summit Foundation, Rotary Club of the Summit and Colorado Mountain College.

In the future, the Summit Chamber is advocating a countywide needs assessment to be conducted by the State of Colorado’s Department of Economic Development and International Trade.

The project is currently under consideration by a coalition of the Chambers working with the municipalities and county government to collectively address private and public sector challenges and opportunities ” resulting in a “shared” vision for the future.

Chamber members serve on special task forces and coalitions addressing issues ranging from pine beetle infestation, I-70 transportation challenges, water, housing, education, immigration integration to global climate change ” all impacting our mountain business communities.

Constance Jones is the

executive director of the Summit County Chamber of Commerce.


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