Our view: EDP on right track

During the past two months, the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership has slowly but surely made strides toward organizational stability.

Early in the history of this latest incarnation of the EDP, the board was receptive to hearing from the public about what it should focus on to stimulate growth in the business community.

The only problem was that nearly everyone has a different opinion of what "economic development" entails. Some people thought the EDP should focus primarily on recruiting new businesses to the area. Others wanted the EDP to be a resource for existing businesses. The board found itself giving up a large portion of its monthly meeting to hear the public weigh in on what direction the EDP should take.

As a result, the meetings became unproductive and inefficient. Worse, by trying to be responsive to everyone's needs, the EDP board found itself stretched in too many different directions. They appeared unable to decide on a course of action.

So board members recently agreed to spend $2,500 to hire a facilitator to help them sort things out. It was an important move, but it probably put the board at risk of criticism.

We think it was a wise use of their time and money.

Board members came away from the meeting with some clear ideas of what they think they need to accomplish, with the thoughts of the public factored in.

They worked on a "vision statement" and developed plans for a committee to communicate that vision to the public. They decided to clarify portions of their existing action plan for a "shop local" program and community branding opportunities. They also decided to better define what they mean by downtown revitalization.

The board also will consider modifying the way it conducts EDP business, separating board-only decisions from those that need input from non-board members. That way, meetings won't be dominated by extended public comment periods that cut into the board's time to make decisions.

EDP Director Tom Flavin said he was struck by a discussion about the primary source for economic growth -- existing businesses. Nationwide, existing businesses contribute to 80 percent of a community's job growth. Entrepreneurs contributed 10 percent to 15 percent, and recruitment contributes 5 percent to 10 percent.

The idea that existing businesses represent the largest areas for growth will be applied to all projects in terms of prioritizing them. The mediator helped the board see that they were on the right track with their Growing Local Business program and should put less emphasis on recruiting outside businesses to the area.

The Growing Local Businesses program makes educational, consulting and construction resources available to Moffat County businesses. Several of the recipients have reported solid progress in their business plans with the help they've received through the program. The EDP uses a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund the program.

The EDP's successful strategic planning session is the latest example of how a skilled facilitator can help a group get out of a rut.

Another facilitator, Tim Sarmo, helped The Memorial Hospital, the county and the city reach a consensus on the best location for a new hospital. The Northwest Colorado Stewardship group also relies heavily on a facilitator to keep their discussions on track and help the group reach its goals.

We're optimistic that the EDP, armed with a clearer picture of what it wants to accomplish, will make a convincing case that it's headed in the right direction.

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