Groups look at economic health of the Yampa Valley

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The economic health of a community is traditionally measured by the number of jobs created or by the sale of goods and services, but that isn't how Northwest Colorado officials are gauging success.

They're using a formula they say answers the question of what's really going on.

"You need to focus on people and people need money," said Scott Ford, Small Business Development Council counselor, Colorado Mountain College instructor and chairman of the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council. "We are community that derives a great deal of personal income from labor. We are a region that works."

Ford said Tuesday during a presentation to Colorado Rural Development Council members that economists need to focus on people to truly measure the health of a community.

And, using data compiled in the Yampa Valley Partners 2003-2003 Community Indicators report, that's just what he's doing, but the news isn't all that good for Moffat County.

Accounting for inflation, the average personal income for Moffat County residents hasn't changed in the past 30 years.

Instead of focusing on jobs and sales, the 2002-2003 Community Indicators Report evaluates personal income by industry and groups them by function.

Transformative industries take one thing and make it into another: calves to cows, coal to energy, wool to blankets. Distributive industries take an item to the marketplace and retail industries provide services -- consumer, professional, social and governmental.

"This approach, I think, is a good way to measure economic diversity," Ford said.

Moffat County's biggest decline in the past 30 years has been in the transformative sector -- mainly in agriculture, which has gone from providing 36 percent of

Moffat County's jobs in 1970 to 4 percent in 2002. Mining remains dominate and construction is rising to fill the gap agriculture is

leaving.

The numbers, Ford said, show what the Yampa Valley faces as far as economic challenges:

  • Wages in retail and consumer services -- two areas that show growth -- are declining, meaning more people are working in jobs that pay less money.
  • The valley is losing agricultural jobs and making them up in the volatile construction industry.
  • Moffat County has seen no real growth in personal income.
  • The economy is commodity weighted -- based on items that increase revenue when the nation's economy is good but decrease when it turns.
  • The Yampa Valley is losing its youth.

Ford said the solution lies in developing and implementing economic strategies that:

  • Increase personal income.
  • Create and foster a culture of entrepreneurship.
  • Create niche manufacturers and special business-to-business services.

The Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council has been aggressively working to find solutions.

According to Sandy Evans Hall, recruiting new businesses to Steamboat Springs is difficult because of the high taxes, high cost of property, high cost of doing business and transportation issues. To combat that, the economic development council is focusing its efforts on creating new businesses from within the community, making sure those businesses stay and stay in business and helping those businesses to expand.

They've developed an "economic gardening" strategy based in

the information provided in the Community Indicators

Report.

"In terms of personal income, we think there are a lot of opportunities and strategies to increase personal income," Evans Hall said. "Our focus in Steamboat Springs is to 'grow our own.'"

Steamboat's economic Development Council has several programs to help local businesses succeed, including a business incubator, entrepreneurial education and access to funding.

Moffat County Commissioner and Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership Chairman Les Hampton gave an update on Moffat County's effort.

"Our economic development effort is focusing on how we have to differentiate," he said. "We're not like Steamboat Springs."

Hampton said Moffat County's economic development efforts were in the "infant stages."

"Our focus has been to unite the community," he said. "We try to get everybody on board and to support this concept."

Right now, the partnership is focusing on getting participation and on creating a welcoming environment for new businesses.

The effort hasn't been without its hitches, he said.

"We've had a few wrinkles in our bed sheets, but we're pulling them out one by one," Hampton

said.

Hampton said the Partnership didn't want to seem like a government-run board, and said he planned to resign as chairman at the group's annual meeting in May.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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