Noelle Leavitt Riley: Fixing Craig and Moffat County's economics

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The Craig Daily Press hosted its monthly Coffee and a Newspaper on Wednesday, and it was wildly successful.

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Noelle Leavitt Riley

Nearly 20 community members — including government officials, economic development personnel and business owners — attended the event that focused on Craig’s economy.

Many interesting discussions took place, and one thing is clear: There’s a huge generation gap in the various views about how to bolster economic development for Craig and Moffat County.

It was identified that some in the older generation are stuck in their ways, while the younger generation will be the driving force behind change. Is that true?

Jay Oxley, chairman of Craig Moffat Economic Development Partnership, took a very positive approach and highlighted the various events that the EDP hosts to help small businesses grow, including classes and consultations through the Business Incubator.

Some were less optimistic. One statement was made that Moffat County is good at identifying problems but horrible at solving them. A show of hands supported the sentiment, while others disagreed.

It’s interesting because right now, Craig has a community assessment group that meets to discuss various ways our city can increase its economic viability in downtown Craig. Is it working? Is it too soon to tell?

How do we refurbish our city to attract more business and tourism? It’s a great question, and many tried to answer it at Coffee and a Newspaper.

Community member John Husband brought up the point that hunters come and then they go. Hunting is not a year-round economic boost for the area. So how does Craig make itself more attractive?

Chris Endreson, a representative from the University of Colorado at Denver, attended and said that perhaps downtown Craig needs new façade. Agreed.

One thought that I contributed was opening a fast-casual restaurant such as Chipotle or Noodles & Company — both Colorado-based franchises — in downtown Craig.

The wonderful thing about franchises is that the business model already is in place. Think about the foot traffic it would generate in downtown. Put it in the Golden Cavvy spot.

Yet, Oxley mentioned that in previous studies the EDP found that the population count in Craig is not large enough to meet the requirements of large franchise restaurants. I think we should investigate whether our city can attract “fast-casual” franchises, as they’re much smaller than, say, a large restaurant chain such as Red Lobster.

Craig City Manager Jim Ferree said Craig continues to struggle with decreasing revenues and that the city has the same number of employees now that it had 20 years ago.

So what do we as a community do to help grow the population and workforce? My suggestion is to start thinking outside the box. Solicit businesses.

People in the group suggested that we also focus more on recreation in Moffat County. That’s a great idea, too. Build and map trails and promote more outdoor activities. Let's continue to highlight companies such as Red Coyote Adventure river rental that has cool offerings for floating on the Yampa River.

Also, let's change the old eyesore signs that welcome people into our city.

Heck, change the outdated and rundown sign that’s at the entrance of Loudy-Simpson Park. Loudy is our prized park; let’s spruce up the entrance. The county already is dredging the pond, let’s get a new sign to accompany it.

The worst thing we can do is spin our wheels. Another suggestion mentioned at the meeting was to get young volunteers involved. It’s the younger generation that eventually will run our city.

Frank Moe, candidate for Moffat County commissioner, said we need to change our mindset.

Also, we must pay attention to the aging population demands, which is why Neil Folks and a large group of citizens are working to create a senior center.

What do you think the city, county and community needs to do to elevate the value of Craig and Moffat County? Feel free to send me your thoughts in a letter to the editor at editor@CraigDailyPress.com.

The Craig Daily Press would like to thank all those who attended Coffee and a Newspaper. We’d also like to encourage community members — children, teens, adults and seniors — to stay involved.

Noelle Leavitt Riley is the managing editor of the Craig Daily Press and the Saturday Morning Press. Contact her at 970-875-1790 or nriley@craigdailypress.com.

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