State capitol to coal capital
State officials tour Craig energy industries, discuss workforce with local leaders
Good workers are hard to find.
It’s an adage perhaps as old as business itself. But, it’s a notion the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment seeks to improve.
For the past several months, department representatives have been traveling the state, meeting with employers, and listening to variations on that time-honored theme.
On Wednesday, a delegation of state officials visited Craig. The visit included tours of Tri-State Generation & Transmission’s Craig Station and Trapper Mine, Inc., as well as an education session.
Those attending were Ellen Golombek, executive dir-
ector of the Department of Labor and Employment; Stephanie Steffens, director of the Colorado Workforce Development Council; and State Senator Jean White, R-Hayden.
The education session took place in a conference room at Trapper. Attendees included the state officials, managers of both the mine and power plant, local business owners and elected officials.
The event was organized by Darcy Owens-Trask, director of the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership and co-chair of the Northwest Colorado Workforce Investment Board.
“It made sense to do an education event for all of us,” Owens-Trask said afterward. “Business and community leaders could learn more about the coal mine and power plant and the Department of Labor and Workforce, and our guests from the state could meet many people in a short period of time and get to know our community.”
The event featured an overview of the combined impact of mining and power generation on the regional economy.
Then, a general discussion focused on developing a workforce to meet today’s needs, and those of the future.
Rick Johnson, manager of Craig Station, and Jim Mattern, president and general manager of Trapper Mine, Inc., gave separate presentations on the regional economic impacts of their companies, and Owens-Trask presented on their combined impact.
First, Johnson presented.
“The spending of the power plant is estimated to be $276 million annually,” he said. “The local, direct spending from the ongoing operations to this three-county region is $214 million.”
Craig Station has 309 employees and is the third-largest employer in the area, he said. Every year, the company pays $28.2 million to local salaries and organizations.
Plus, Tri-State contracts out-of-area workers who travel to Craig periodically to perform upgrades. Those workers spend an estimated $528,000 within the region every year, he said.
Tri-State also pays $8.1 million in property taxes and $695,000 in sales tax every year.
Additionally, Tri-State heavily supports other local industries, he said.
The company buys 100 percent of the coal produced at Trapper Mine and Colowyo Coal Mine, which drives the demand for Union Pacific’s freight service. The power plant also drives demand for Maybell Enterprises in Maybell.
“The power plant supports a direct payroll of just about $39 million to approximately 446 employees … at Trapper and Colowyo,” Johnson said. “We support 100 percent of those employees. If Craig Station wasn’t here, neither of those mines would have a market.
“Union Pacific, which moves the coal for us, (has) $8.7 million in freight expenses, and they have 23 workers earning $1.7 million for the area. Maybell Enterprises supplies us with limestone. They employ about nine workers … it’s calculated that their workers earn about $276,000.”
Next, Mattern presented.
Trapper Mine, Inc. employs 191 full-time employees who earn between $26.18 and $29.61 per hour, he said.
“They’re good-paying jobs and they also require skill to perform,” he said. “It’s a very skilled workforce, it’s very expensive high-tech equipment, everything is computerized.”
Trapper pays $17.4 million a year in salaries and benefits, he said.
The mine also pays $1.4 million in property taxes and $454,000 in sales taxes.
Owens-Trask presented last.
In addition to Trapper Mine, other mines in the region contribute heavily to jobs.
Colowyo Mine employs 254 workers, 171 of whom live in Moffat County. And, Twentymile Coal Company employs 400 workers, 240 of whom live in Moffat County.
“So, the direct job creation in the region — just from these employers (Tri-State, Trapper, Colowyo and Twentymile) — is 849 in coal and 309 in electric,” she said.
Owens-Trask said those jobs greatly impact the creation of jobs here and elsewhere around the country.
“For every one coal job that’s created, 9.1 jobs are created,” she said. “And for every one electric job, 7.5 jobs are created.”
The total indirect jobs created from the local coal industry is more than 7,000, and 2,300 from the power plant, she said.
After the presentations, the discussion focused largely on the local workforce. The common theme: despite high unemployment, some jobs are still difficult to fill.
“We have a really hard time finding people — especially electricians and mechanics,” Mattern said.
Janiene Mattern, chairwoman of the Northwest Colorado Workforce Investment Board, echoed that sentiment.
“Engineers are very, very difficult to find,” she said. “We’ve been looking for several months to find an electrical engineer. So, there are these high-level positions that are difficult to fill.”
Janiene added that long winters make it difficult to retain workers in Northwest Colorado.
“So, it’s better to train and encourage our youth to go into these fields, or have people retraining,” she said. “And, that’s where the Workforce Centers come in.”
Dave DeRose, owner of Masterworks Mechanical in Craig, said he and other business owners in Craig face similar difficulties.
“It’s not unique to the power plant and coal mine. … We have the same problems you have, just on a much smaller scale,” DeRose said.
Golombek said the Department of Labor and Employment was there to help.
“At the power plant, for example, if someone could move up but lacks a certain skill, there are training resources available to help with that if Tri-State doesn’t have it,” she said.
Gene Bilodeau, a member of the Craig City Council and the EDP Board, said that because Northwest Colorado doesn’t have a big population base in terms of votes, the area often gets overlooked by state agencies.
“What do we need to do to get your attention?” he asked.
Golombek said local assistance is available.
“The area has representatives on the workforce council,” she said. “Trish Sullivan is your representative.”
Sullivan, a Steamboat Springs resident, was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting, Owens-Trask said.
Senator White said the state government in Denver is more inclusive than in years past.
“I think we, in Northwest Colorado, really should take comfort in the fact that Gov. (John) Hickenlooper has appointed so many people from the West Slope to be in his inner circle,” she said. “I’m telling you we have never had better representation down there (in Denver) than we do right now.”
Golombek agreed, and added that accessibility is a mandate.
“I think it was our first month after we were appointed when the governor very casually said, ‘You have 72 hours to respond to any inquiries,’” she recalled. “It doesn’t mean we’ll have the answer, but within 72 hours we need to acknowledge that you’ve contacted us.”
Steffens said the Colorado Workforce Development Council is likewise accessible, and encouraged business owners to advocate for themselves at the local and state levels.
“It’s the good old-fashioned social networking that’s going to work,” Steffens said. “Being engaged, being involved. For the council, we work really hard making sure we have at least one representative from every one of the 19 workforce regions.
“Yours is Trish (Sullivan). … Engage her, talk to her. She’s one of our best council members.”
Steffens said she has worked for the state under three governors, and the latest administration is determined to get things done.
“This cabinet really has the mentality of ‘We all own it, and we’re all responsible for getting it done,’” she said. “As citizens, we need to take advantage of that and make things happen while we can.”
“Moffat County is ready to be a great partner,” Owens-Trask said.
Afterward, Golombek said the event was valuable.
“The idea is not to come and have a dog and pony show,” she said. “It really is important because you get to see the community.
“Visiting Trapper and Tri-State, that’s the essence of the community. That’s 500 jobs. That’s the backbone of this community and its economic growth and health. Seeing how those operate was really critical.
“And, hearing about the challenges they’re going to face with workforce issues is really important.”