Study could be economic crystal ball

Analysis to chart the comings and goings of money in area

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Moffat County is partnering with Colorado State University to update a 1994 economic baseline analysis that charts where money comes from and where it goes in Moffat County.

The study -- called an input/output model -- is expected to help public officials make informed decisions. Theoretically, they will have a guideline that helps them understand the economic impact of those decisions.

According to CSU Moffat County Extension Agent John Balliette, once complete, the study should indicate what impacts a decision to limit grazing in one area has on the economy. In a broader scale, the study could show some definite impacts of wilderness designations or the establishment of endangered species habitat.

"We'll talk about what you'd like to see from this study because that's really what it's all about," CSU researcher Andy Seidel said.

The Moffat County commissioners and other county officials will be able to outline some scenarios from which economists could calculate impacts. These scenarios and the resulting impacts could include changes in the mining industry, the decreasing value of the power plant and changes in hunting.

Commissioner Les Hampton wants the study to include figures from Dinosaur National Monument and its impact, if any, on Moffat County's economy.

"I don't think we're benefiting on this side at all," he said. "I think we need to have specific information about this side of the state line so we can weigh that against possible oil and gas revenue."

Other scenario suggestions included the cost versus impact of development, the revenue and cost impact of underground versus surface mining and the impacts of tourism, not including hunting.

The analysis would:

  • Provide economic projections broken out by economic sector.
  • Trace the flow of goods, services, labor and money through the economy.
  • Link employment and wages in one economic sector to another.
  • Link land and other resource use to economic impact through employment and wages.
  • Provide an opportunity to view the likely impact of politics or events on the economic base.

"If something impacts the mining sector, what is that going to do to the tax revenue on the sale of coffee at the coffee shop," Seidel said.

The study, he said, doesn't make recommendations, doesn't make policy and doesn't distinguish desirable from undesirable economic activities.

It may project potential revenue from a casino, but it doesn't take into account the possible increase in law enforcement costs that could result from the construction of a casino, Seidel said.

"It doesn't make that value judgement, so it's objective, but you have to be careful," he said.

What the study will do, he said, is provide a better understanding of the economic base in Moffat County and facilitate understanding of proposed private and public policy decisions.

The input/output study measures economic impact in three ways: Direct, the jobs and revenue from the product in one industry -- in agriculture that would be wages and the sale of cattle, for example; indirect, the impact to industries associated with that business -- that could be a trucking company or veterinarian; and induced, which is the way wages from both of those industries impact other businesses -- restaurants, automobile dealerships or clothing stores.

The induced impact is a multiplier based on how many times a dollar is projected to roll over in a certain economy. That multiplier, Seidel said, is usually between one and three -- not six or seven as is often thought.

"High multipliers don't seem to play out unless you have a very high-impact industry and a very complex economy," he said.

Mining is a high-impact industry. The service industry is not.

"We have to have that data," Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said. "I think the value is having the data when we speak to groups. We'll have the numbers to say, 'If you do that, this is the impact it will have.'"

Moffat County Natural Resources Department Director Jeff Comstock said most federal land use decisions deal with recreation or agriculture and it's important for the land use department to understand the impacts of those decisions.

"When we concentrate and comment on plans from federal agencies, one of the things we're lacking is some concrete data to base our decision on," Comstock said.

The final report is expected to be complete in September.

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