Group solicits public opinion on economic development

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Experts say Craig is growing and its residents have two choices let it grow as it will, becoming a bedroom community to Steamboat Springs, or manage growth so residents directly affect change.

"If you do nothing, there's going to be growth here. People are going to find the Yampa Valley," said John Whiteman.

Whiteman is part of the consulting group called Whiteman and Taintor from Boulder, Colo. The group was hired by the Craig Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee to create a target industry analysis (TIA) for Craig.

The group is about six weeks into the project and has already done a study of the valley, its potential and its characteristics. The group is about 10 days away from presenting a draft business package a graphic package designed to professionally present Craig to prospective business owners and site location specialists.

Whiteman led a community meeting in Craig Thursday night for three reasons to promote awareness of the project, to outline the strategy and direction of the project and to "pick residents' brains" about where they wanted to see Craig in 10 to 20 years.

"I've found some of the best ideas come from you folks," he told some 20 audience members.

The goal of the TIA, he said, is to diversify the economy, create higher paying jobs, create jobs that help maintain the character of Craig and plan for economic diversity in a way that betters the community.

"We have to look down the road 10, 15, 20 years and when mining goes, there are people who are ready and those who are not," he said.

Studies have shown that doing nothing about growth will turn Craig into a Steamboat Springs bedroom community similar to those in the Vail and Aspen vallies. Whiteman foresees an increase in service- and tourism-related jobs, both low-paying areas.

To prepare and plan for growth, city officials and community leaders need to maintain mixed housing options and address policies for growth.

"(Housing options) are definitely going to impact the character of the community," Whiteman said. He noted that not making the effort to maintain a variety of housing prices helps make Craig look like a bedroom community to Steamboat Springs.

"The key is to try and bring more jobs in manufacturing and more skilled labor," Whiteman said.

The change, he said, will result in the increase of about 900 to 1,000 new jobs in the area.

The process the Economic Development Committee is undertaking with Whiteman and Taintor will provide for managed growth and economic diversification. The goals of the TIA are to plan for strategic growth of new businesses, attract new businesses, consider physical planning concepts for providing a good foundation for business, create marketing materials and identify funding sources.

"It's not going to be a perfect world if you do this project, but you'll be able to shape the community's future," Whiteman said.

The city will not offer any economic or tax incentives to new businesses at this time, a question posed by The Memorial Hospital Administrator Randy Phelps. According to Whiteman, the scale of business proposed shouldn't need incentives.

"We're trying to sell the quality of life here," he said.

Audience members were concerned with technology and how having or not having a telecommunications backbone would impact growth.

"It think it's kind of a must have these days to make you attractive to businesses," Whiteman said.

The Moffat County Board of Commissioners is in the process of bringing in a fiber optic telecommunications backbone through Northwest Colorado to connect with the proposed Moffat County Public Safety Center. Nadine Daskiewicz, owner of The Kitchen Shop in downtown Craig, was concerned that residents would not have access to the cable and that would make the community less attractive to businesses.

According to City Manager Jim Ferree, the city may have to spend money locally to string fiber optic cable through town where it is accessible to residents and businesses.

The Economic Development Committee plans to hold another community meeting in the near future to present the draft business package.

Whiteman and Taintor have also been retained to complete a competitive review of other communities that Craig could learn from or will likely be competitors for Craig, a strategy memo outlining initial recommendations regarding how Craig should proceed with its economic development effort, a memo on what specific marketing, recruitment and business development activities the community should pursue and a draft and final strategy report.

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