Local economy too healthy for Ritter's plan

Surplus of jobs makes Yampa Valley a different case than most of the state

— The economy of the Yampa Valley and Moffat County is bright enough that businesses almost need to wear shades, said Scott Ford, a local entrepreneur and Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership interim director.

As Noreen Moore, Steamboat Springs' Economic Development Council director, told Gov. Bill Ritter during his Sept. 28 visit to Craig, Ford believes the valley is going through a "perfect storm" of economic development.

The combination of tourism and a surging energy industry built an economy with businesses needing more workers than there are people living in the area. There also are more people wanting to move here than there is available housing, Noreen said to Ritter.

The governor addressed local business leaders during his visit and personally explained his administration's new small business legislation package.

There are a few tenets in that package designed for rural communities, such as increasing the amount of time a rural business has to qualify for financial incentives based on its number of employees.

Though every part of Ritter's package is beneficial for small businesses across Colorado, it fits the needs of other communities more than those in the Yampa Valley, Ford said.

Ritter's economic development plan is designed to create new jobs, "which can never be bad," but the valley already has lots of jobs available, Ford added.

"We want to create jobs, but we want to create the right kind of jobs," Ford said. "If there's jobs created, God bless us. Our focus is to create jobs that provide a sustainable wage plus health insurance and benefits.

"We don't need anymore $8-an-hour jobs."

The Yampa Valley economy is strong enough that economic development is less of what's required than economic management, Ford said. Development is already happening.

"We need to find how we can pace development so the labor force and infrastructure meets it," Ford said.

Valley residents are afraid of a boom/bust cycle although they shouldn't be, Ford said.

The bust in the late 1970s and early 1980s came about because the power plant construction ended at the same time Empire mine closed and the federal government raised interest rates.

The construction industry now is based around residential and commercial real estate, and that industry should continue for a few more years, Ford said.

Though the local economy still hinges on mines, "there are no storm clouds on the horizon" for them, he added.

"I can't promise there won't be tough times ahead, but I don't see them," Ford said.

The absence of a small business development center is Moffat County's biggest concern, Ford said.

He wants to start a business incubator in Craig, which is essentially low-cost office space that also provides logistical and technical support. Copy and fax machines and broadband Internet connections would be available, as well as volunteer support to train entrepreneurs on software such as the accounting program Quicken.

"It allows a person to start a business in a little more sheltered environment," Ford said. "It helps entrepreneurs pursue business ideas without making a big financial commitment."

Ford sees developing a business incubator as one tool in the toolbox for economic growth. He plans to be in contact with the Colorado Office of Economic Development to present a feasibility study for the project.

Collin Smith can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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