City hears economic development report

The Economic Development Partnership is up and running, its chairman, Les Hampton, reported to the Craig City Council Tuesday night but up and running wasn't good enough for council members who thought more would have been done by now to recruit businesses and secure grants.

Wally Ralston, director of the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) was scheduled to speak to the council about his accomplishments over the past three months, but a previous engagement prevented his attendance and Hampton, who is also a Moffat County commissioner, reported in his stead.

"He has equipped an office, he is getting familiar with our county and the surrounding area and he has met with Steve Miller of the Moffat County Tourism Association to identify and coordinate lead-generation efforts," Hampton said.

Ralston, Hampton reported, has visited with eight area businesses and received financial commitments from seven of them for $10,000 in support for the EDP.

"It's been a lot slower than I would've expected, but we're working through it," Hampton said. "At this time, the first priority of the EDP is to improve our overall business environment within the Craig and Moffat areas.

The first phase of this effort is being conducted through visitations with the business community. These visitations are in the form of presentations on the current status of the EDP and to ask for their support, active or passive, in the effort."

Hampton said it is essential for area businesses to support the EDP if it is to survive. A previously completed target industry analysis identified an operating budget for the EDP of between $120,000 to $190,000 per year.

City Councilor Natalie Alden said her impression when the council agreed to partially fund the EDP was that more time would be spent responding to businesses that have expressed an interest in relocating and providing them with information on Craig.

"Shouldn't this be more of a priority because after 9/11, several East Coast businesses are interested in relocating?" Alden said.

According to Hampton, active business recruitment has yet to begin.

"We would like to spend some time and let our director find out where this community wants to go," he said. "Trust me, we will follow every lead."

Recruiting, Hampton said, is subject to many factors that are outside the community's control press coverage of the drought and statewide fires, the nation's economy and status of other states that may be more conducive to continuing business than it was a year ago.

Most importantly, Hampton said, is that the local business environment be improved.

"This 'setting the stage' includes creating business parks, community enhancements and business retention programs," Hampton said.

Hampton asked the city whether it would take the lead in creating a business park at property it owns near the Moffat County Public Safety Center.

Mayor Dave DeRose said it would consider donating the property to the county and letting the county lead the effort.

"This welcoming environment, the setting of the stage, community enhancements, the beautification programs, improved signage and at least one business park are all within the control of this council and would benefit our community and compliment the efforts of the EDP greatly," Hampton said.

Hampton said no set evaluation period or standards have been established for Ralston, but he said the board is working on it.

"Really Wally and the board haven't worked out specific goals and objectives and a work program," City Manager Jim Ferree said.

Councilor Bill Johnston asked that a specific job description be made for the EDP's director position and that Ralston be reviewed periodically to ensure he is meeting those standards.

"I think each of us had different expectations of what should have occurred by now," Johnston said.

Ralston submitted a detailed report on what he has been working on during his time in Craig.

"If he makes eight contacts in three months, it's going to take a long time to do just the downtown businesses," Councilor Carl Chapman said. "He's pretty much an unknown as far as the business community is concerned."

Hampton said the EDP would report to the council quarterly on what has been accomplished.

"He works for the partnership and the partnership work for you," Hampton said.

"We fully expect to be above board with what we're going to do."

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