Government, economic growth

State team leads discussion on planning

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Government or industry incentives can attract development, Mark Buschenfeldt said, but the local government's planning process typically matters more.

Buschenfeldt, a project manager for the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade, helped facilitate a discussion among Moffat County residents Sept. 19 on the government's responsibility toward economic development.

The talk was one of three sponsored by the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership last week.

Local residents, business owners, civic group officials and politicians participated in a conversation that focused on dissatisfaction with the local planning process.

"We have had companies interested in this area, and then they looked at the process and the fees involved and said, 'I can do this anywhere,'" said Christina Currie, Craig Chamber of Commerce executive director. "There's personality conflicts with officials, there's tap fees. The response I get seems to be highly negative."

Government incentives

There are certain kinds of incentives that address those issues, the state team offered.

Economic incentives don't have to be piles of free cash, said Ann Driggers, president and chief executive officer for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

Deana Sheriff agreed and offered a real world example.

Sheriff is the executive director for Delta Area Development, which is Delta County' economic development organization.

Both Driggers and Sheriff said their organizations are closely involved with government planning and development decisions in their areas. In the case of Sheriff's group, it was able to lobby local government and help design a fast-track planning process.

"It took about a year to develop," Sheriff said. "It wasn't easy, and there was a lot of blood-letting before it was all over."

But now, the area has an easy-to-read page of requirements and directions, she said, and if a developer follows all the steps and has their paperwork ready, they are guaranteed their reviews will be finished in six to 12 weeks.

The state team also recommended the city and county work together to create an official and binding planning process for land near city limits but which exists in the county. Current practices are cumbersome and confusing, and exacerbated by a lack of communication between city and county officials, they said.

Ways to attract new employers

Other incentives outside of cash and tax breaks can attract employers that might otherwise build a factory or office somewhere else.

In Grand Junction, Diggers' group has had about 90 acres of "development sites" given to it by the city of Grand Junction and Mesa County, which is offered to primary job businesses, she said. Primary jobs are those that pay enough to buy a home, raise a family and have money to save, as well.

It is not a free ride for developers, Diggers added.

"We absolutely lock them down so if they leave after a few years or don't create the jobs they said they would, then they pay us back in some way" such as paying cash penalties or forfeiting ownership of their property, she said.

City and county officials also help attract primary job businesses, Diggers and Sheriff said, by hooking up water taps for free or providing free services such as leveling dirt on a building site.

It's nothing more than a "token offer" worth a few thousand dollars for a business that would bring in millions to the community, Sheriff said.

It does amount to market interference, Driggers said, but added she thinks it is the right thing to do for the community.

"If we feel that the private sector is not doing what we need, if there is a gap, we fill that gap," she said. "By giving land or incentives of some kind, it's the only way to get business in town, and if we didn't, then the private sector wouldn't benefit at all."

Incentives are only offered to primary job businesses, Driggers added, which do not compete with other industries. Other businesses, such as retail and service, depend on primary businesses to create their customer base because they entice people to move to the area and pay enough that their employees have disposable income.

Local banks also need to assume responsibility for investing in the community, Sheriff said. In Delta County, banks have given loans ranging from $50,000 to $48 million.

Government reaction

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray, who was the only county official to attend the meeting, said he would be willing to look at any plan brought to his attention.

He said he was especially interested in working out problems with city and county planning processes. Other actions and incentives, such as free services or mandatory zoning, he would have to gauge by his principles of free market and private property rights.

EDP Director Darcy Trask said her organization could help move the conversation forward.

It seems there uncertainty whether local residents want growth or not, Trask said. There also seems to be a lack of direct knowledge about what the local planning process looks like compared to systems in other areas.

"If we want to compete with other places for businesses, we've got to do something different," Trask said. "If we don't want to grow, then that's fine. We will never be competitive, as is. There's been a lot of change in a short period of time, and I think it's appropriate to ask the question now."

EDP could provide that information, so that it and government officials pursue the direction that residents want them to lead, Trask said.

State team members cautioned that a community that is not growing is dying. Sheriff said Delta County residents didn't want to invest in economic development until there were more people leaving the county than moving in and a recession threatened to ruin the community's future.

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

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