Economic development partnership sets local business development, expansion as a priority

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Some residents expect instant change on the Craig and Moffat County business scene. Others would rather take the time to define a solid framework of business goals that can be realized well into the future.

Recent work done through the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) is a mix of those two philosophies.

The 11-member EDP board recently announced its 2004 proposals to attract and retain local businesses. The "action plan" identifies strategies for immediate local business growth but also provides wiggle room for the group to develop long-term goals.

"One of our goals is making businesses that are already here a priority," said EDP Director Tom Flavin. "We also have to have a vision and we don't want to limit our thinking. We have a real opportunity to position this region in a good place for the next five years and down the road."

EDP proposals for 2004 include growing local businesses, providing entrepreneurial training, providing a business ombudsman, offering financial assistance, recruiting more businesses and cooperating in regional collaboration.

In the last few months the EDP has experienced some degree of success, members said.

Since January, the group has written and developed bylaws and hired Flavin as the new director. The group recently secured a $50,000 government loan that may be used to provide business owners with marketing and financial planning assistance. It also plans to more aggressively recruit EDP members in the hopes of further growing the organization

"We've got a lot done in the last six months," EDP member Nadine Daszkiewicz said. "I know that there are people who say, 'It's been three months (since Flavin was hired) and there's no huge corporation here.' But that's not fair."

"I think considering the number of feuding groups, we've done quite well," Daszkiewicz added.

Flavin started as the group's executive director at the start of the year. He replaced the former director Wally Ralston who resigned in January 2003.

The EDP almost came to standstill without a leader at the helm. Members continued to meet, but focused on hiring a new director.

Flavin brings with him 25 years experience of professional economic development and city management experience.

EDP secretary Jackie Roberts said she thinks Flavin is a good fit for the group if members know how to utilize his talents.

"He's got a lot of connections that can work to go a long way," Roberts said. "He doesn't have the attitude that he's going to save the day, but he helps us think of ideas to market ourselves in more effective ways."

Flavin agreed that he's received a warm welcome from many ports of the community. Still he's quick to point out that "a successful program isn't built in three-and-a-half months."

"I can't control all the variables," he said of watching local businesses open and close. "But through this organization, I can help create the opportunity to succeed. Obviously not every business is going to succeed, that's a reality we have to deal with."

EDP members say the group's proposed goals mark a tangible step toward creating healthy economic growth.

Helping a current business locate a low-interest loan to increase its inventory is one way the EDP can help local businesses in the short term, Roberts said.

A longer-term example could mean providing seminars and information for local startup businesses, she added.

"In one year I'd like to see a good solid plan," Roberts said. "In five years, I'd like to see that plan in effect and not varying from it, with everybody in agreement."

EDP members are also looking toward what they see as the promise of further energy development in Moffat County, Flavin said.

The group wants to attract and invite the "business clusters" or secondary businesses that may follow on the heels of coal, oil and natural gas development.

"There's a huge global industry opportunity that we can build on," he said.

A total of 63 energy companies do business in Moffat County and the EDP aims to recruit all of them as members, Roberts said.

EDP members pay a yearly fee. The group is in the process of formulating a pay-scale for companies who want to sign on as members. Membership dollars go toward group activities and Flavin's salary.

"Economic development doesn't happen overnight," Flavin said. "We need to get more people involved."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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