Group addresses Mesa State study

Workforce, housing top list of local concerns

A further step

Next week, Darcy Trask, Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership executive specialist, said she will begin another phase of the Mesa State College study on regional growth issues, called Listen 2 Business.

She plans to interview local employers on their specific concerns, comments or feelings regarding regional growth and/or the present and future state of their business.

Trask said she is open to anyone who wants to participate. She added that she needs representatives from the local construction, energy and manufacturing industries.

For more information or to set up an appointment, call the EDP office at Craig City Hall at 826-2039.

Darcy Trask, Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership executive specialist, has proposed a twofold approach to the problems addressed by the recent Mesa State College study concerning regional growth and social impacts.

First, the Craig and Moffat County community needs to solve for itself what issues - at this moment - require the most action, forgetting for the sake of discussion about which issues people are most passionate.

Second, the community also needs to be somewhat unified and work together so disagreements do not allow a larger regional county to overrule local interests.

Trask told this to local business, political and educational leaders gathered Wednesday at City Hall, and they nodded.

Then, they set to work on a priority list to take to the regional Mesa State meeting June 15 in Grand Junction.

What can't be helped locally

The group decided many priorities were local and regional, with strategies possible for local authorities to work within their community or work together on a regional scale.

Some issues, such as transportation and natural resources, were high on people's agendas for action, but after a brief discussion, the assembled group concluded there wasn't much else locals could do about these matters.

"Until we can funnel money from the Front Range," Craig Mayor Don Jones said, "we'll continue to see those millions and billions of (state highway funding) dollars go to I-25 and I-70."

State Highway 13 from Rifle to the Wyoming border has been a Colorado Department of Transportation priority for several years, Jones said, and the most that's been done is a couple million dollars for six miles of road.

Commissioner Tom Gray agreed with the mayor, saying the people need to get behind a way to renovate the funding system.

The fuel tax has been 20 cents a gallon for more than a decade, Gray said. The increase of cars on the road hasn't helped generate much more money because fuel mileage has increased along with volume.

That mechanism is ineffectual and needs to be changed for the good of roads statewide, Gray said.

"It is a bigger issue than we can deal with locally," he said.

As for natural resources, those issues primarily are affected by political policy, said Jeff Comstock, county Natural Resources Department director.

While Moffat County residents and organizations are encouraged to voice opinions on certain plans and contact their political representatives, Comstock added, there is a bevy of well-funded, and well-connected, organizations fighting political battles for the Western Slope.

For now, at least, he recommended the group concentrate their efforts on other priorities that are easier to tackle on the local level, and the group agreed.

What can be helped locally

But, the group also agreed that local authorities and individuals can take steps forward on the area's housing shortage, some aspects of the long-term economy and, ultimately, the workforce problems local employers face.

City Manager Jim Ferree said the city could bring together a group of developers new to the area and those currently investing in residential subdivisions, and have a sit-down discussion.

"We probably should pull them together and talk to them about their challenges (developing here) and what they want moving forward," he said.

One issue that may not be addressed in these new developments is how affordable these new houses will be, Ferree added.

The city cannot require someone to sell houses for a certain amount, he said.

Looking at the general economy, Dave DeRose, Masterworks Mechanical, said though the community is lucky to have the current level of energy development, something needs to be done to diversify local commerce.

"Primary jobs that bring in primary dollars from outside this community must be something we continue to strive for in this community," DeRose said.

"We can't just say to ourselves, 'By golly, we've got bull elk, deer, Mexican restaurants and coal and gas, and that's all we have and all we will ever have or need."

Problems with the area's workforce topped local concerns.

Employers need more workers, skilled and unskilled, the group said.

"We need a quality workforce that does service work and the primary-paying jobs," City Councilor Terry Carwile said.

Gray added that he supports Colorado Northwestern Community College putting students through vocational programs that would allow them to find well-paying jobs in the community.

After seeing how important the group rated workforce problems, Trask said the EDP might serve the community by making that a primary issue for her organization.

But, as many attendees were wont to say during the two-hour meeting, every issue they addressed was interconnected, and workforce could not be solved without addressing housing, transportation, natural resources, the quality of life, rising crime from growth and local planning and zoning strategies.

Trask said she plans to focus on the issues the group decided were more regionally based at the coming Mesa State meeting in Grand Junction.

"This can serve as a great springboard for what we can do together," she said. "Certainly, we can walk away with a good list of priorities based on what we believe are important to us and what we can do about them."

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.