EDP: Past is past, future within reach

— Although the Moffat County commissioners are not convinced, members of the Economic Development Partnership firmly believe their organization's mission is necessary and feasible.

"The opportunities here are expanding, not contracting," said Scott Ford, EDP interim director. "Now, a lot of that growth may happen no matter what, but we can create more out of those opportunities if we know how to act."

The commissioners met with the Craig City Council Tuesday night at City Hall, and questioned the legitimacy of funding a group the commissioners say has not shown expected results. Commissioner Saed Tayyara spurred the initiative to cease financial support of EDP, though he said it was a hard decision as he helped found the group in 1985.

It is not reasonable to dismantle a group moving forward because of failures in the past, said Dave Fleming, EDP Board of Directors member and Moffat County National Bank manager.

"To say they don't want to fund us because of these things going back to (1985), you just can't dwell in the past," Fleming said. "Bottom line, either you want to help the community for the betterment of the community or you're just not in favor of growth.

"If the commissioners are not in favor of growth, they need to say that."

The commissioners agreed with the City Council that economic security for the community and economic growth go hand-in-hand. EDP has not been able and most likely will not be able to instigate growth, they said.

Tayyara believes a big reason for that has been EDP's inability to hire a director capable of the task and interested in the community.

Past directors did what they could, and did not abandon the job, said Jerry Thompson, EDP Board of Directors co-chair.

"When Tim Gibbs was here, Tim did not fail EDP," Thompson said. "Politics and the city failed Tim."

Gibbs was the previous director and he resigned in April because he didn't know if EDP funding would be there the next year, Thompson said.

Thompson added he left with two or three projects in the pipeline, including a Holiday Inn Express and a New York company that cleans power plants. Gibbs did not inform anyone in the community about the projects because the companies did not want their interest to be public knowledge.

Both enterprises were interested in moving to Craig, and both ventures fell through after Gibbs resigned, Thompson added.

Currently, Ford fills the position as interim director, "just to keep the oar in the water," he said. He plans to use his economic development experience during the past 12 years in Steamboat Springs to evaluate which opportunities exist here and which do not.

At Tuesday's meeting, commissioner Tom Mathers raised the issue of Moffat County not being able to attract the kind of manufacturing businesses which EDP has trumpeted as its targets.

There are no houses for a new company's employees to live in, and there are better paying jobs in the energy sector, Mathers said.

Ford agreed with Mathers's business market appraisal.

"The manufacturing component in the valley, there's some opportunity," Ford said. "The reason people move here is because of our quality of life, and that's an economic resource we can market. They'll move here because the ownership wants to be here or (the location) can enhance their business."

Ford mentioned two businesses in Steamboat Springs, Moots Cycles and Hog Island Boat Works, which operate in the valley because of the local outdoor economy.

There's also a difference between primary businesses and "core jobs," Ford added. Core jobs are any business that pays enough to sustain a standard of living plus 20 percent. These can be anything, "even journalism jobs," Ford said, but they stimulate the economy because they bring money into the community that is spent in the community.

Commissioner Tom Gray said his mind has not been changed because he has not heard any specific examples of what EDP plans to do to facilitate economic development.

Thompson has an idea, and it's been talked about before but never jumped on, he said. He wants to develop the land south of the Public Safety Center into an industrial business park.

The city owns about 17 acres there, and if infrastructure were to be developed there, such as utilities and roads, businesses would follow the opportunity, he said.

"I think with the oil activity and all the things going on, we need something like that now," Thompson said. "I think if we had some long-term commitment from the city, I could get everyone on board."

Should EDP not receive funding for 2008, its board plans to sustain itself on the money it has in savings now, roughly $70,000 according to EDP's February financials.

EDP's board is unsure of what direction it would take without a paid director, but board members said it would necessitate a more limited approach, and may hinder any marketing outside of the region.

"The whole thing boils down to the commissioners don't want to fund EDP," Fleming said. "They seem to be set in their ways that nothing can convince them any different. If that's true, then they should just come out and tell us so we can move on."

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

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