Forum to help county plan future growth

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Where people spend their money is as important as how much they spend.

Consumer preference data is a tool for attracting businesses, provides direction for existing businesses and indicates the health of a local economy.

Scott Ford of the Colorado Mountain College Small Business Development Center presented a study Thursday to a group of about 70 economic developers, business leaders and government officials who gathered in Craig for the Colorado Rural Development Council's annual Rural Issues Forum.

Ford's Routt County consumer preference study indicated that more than 50 percent of full-time residents were buying goods outside of Steamboat.

While bad news for Routt County, there was a benefit to Moffat County as a portion of those shoppers were shown to head in this direction.

Presenters shared several studies, including the effect second homes have on a resort area and how to use data about jobs and income to bolster a local economy. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Office and the state Department of Local Affairs shared information about money available for economic development, including start-up loans and housing loans for employees.

"It was a great conference, well-attended with diverse people there," Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said.

Raftopoulos said much of the information gained at the forum will be used for future planning in Moffat County.

As growth occurs, which the data indicate it will, Moffat County can be prepared by boosting its infrastructure, recreational opportunities, updating its zoning and improving social services, Raftopoulos said.

"Recreational amenities are the No. 1 draw," she said. "We also need to look at our amenities and build that infrastructure to bring people here and get them to stay. I think we need to capitalize on this information."

The revenue generated in resort towns from second homes is immense. A study being conducted by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments indicates second homes are a major economic driver in a region.

As the number of second homes increases in Routt County, spillover is anticipated in Moffat County.

"That piece is really important to us," Raftopoulos said. "We'll see more of those people moving down here as the valley grows."

The study results will be released in July and should help Moffat County in its planning efforts.

The day-long forum ended with a committment to form partnerships and network.

"We achieve more through partnerships," said Audrey Danner, director of Yampa Valley Partners, one of the forum's sponsors. "You don't get everything you want, but generally you get everything you need."

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

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