Local businesses gear up for worker influx

Entrega Pipeline officials estimated the 300 to 600 workers on their project will bring $6.3 million in revenue to small businesses. El Paso Company officials think their pipeline project will do the same.

But not everyone is so sure.

"I don't know what to expect," City Manager Jim Ferree said.

The construction of two natural gas pipelines starting in August combined with a power plant outage starting in September is expected to bring 900 to 1,200 workers into Moffat County for more than two months.

The last big influx of construction workers came last spring, when the Craig Station Power Plant upgraded the pollution control mechanisms on Units 1 and 2. At its height, there were 800 workers on the project, but the average number was 200 to 300.

That project didn't boost the city's bottom line.

"It may well have cushioned us from a downturn, but it really didn't affect us too much," Ferree said.

Bruce Nelson, the city's finance director, estimates the plant's project contributed to an average 3 percent to 4 percent increase in sales tax.

"Obviously this should have an impact," he said. "I just wish it was for longer."

Business owners think having so many people in town will have an impact on sales, but how much -- and where -- is still a question.

Those using the power plant's retrofit as a comparison say that imported construction workers generally come with all they'll need and are sending money home -- spending it only on what they need.

"These workers are professionals," said Jim Simos, owner of Cashway Distributors. "They come in here prepared. We do pick up some business from them, and we appreciate it, but we'd never forget our local customers."

Stores that provide necessities likely will benefit the most. The managers of Safe-way and City Market reported an increase in business during the retrofit and expect the same this fall. "We can extend our staff, but we have no plans to do that until we see what will happen," Safeway Manager Chuck Sadvar said.

He said the store generally has more on hand than it needs and that more business just means bigger orders.

"Our customers will not see a difference," he said.

It seems that food is where the money goes. Chris Nichols, owner of Craig's McDonald's said his lunch and dinner crowds increased during the retrofit, and he expects the pipeline projects to bring a similar impact.

October is the restaurant's second busiest month of the year because of hunting season. Nichols said the most difficult thing about handling the increase will be hiring competent employees.

"Everyone will be hiring," he said. "If it was for good, you could handle it, but this is only for three to four months."

Tom Mathers, co-owner of Mathers' Bar said the influx of people, though welcome, will be difficult to handle for some businesses that already have an established base of local customers.

"It's going to make it hard -- hard to serve and hard to control," he said. "It really sucks that they can't figure out how to spread things out."

Mathers' Bar will be adding a small, secondary bar and additional staff to handle the additional people.

"There won't be a watering hole in town that won't be filled with customers," he said.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 or ccurrie@craigdailypress.

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