Area committee wants to improve economic future | CraigDailyPress.com

Area committee wants to improve economic future

Group gets glance at first stage of economic study

Christina M. Currie

No crystal ball is needed to see the options the City of Craig has for future growth and development. The choices range from stagnation to an aggressive drive to improve the economy to ensure the future of the town.

The Craig Chamber of Commerce has chosen the latter strategy and commissioned the firm of Whiteman and Taintor from Boulder to create an eight-phase economic development strategy called a target industry analysis (TIA). The project is estimated to take six months and cost the economic development group $43,000. A portion of those funds was donated by the City of Craig and Moffat County.

To date, Whiteman and Taintor has prepared a preliminary findings memo which provides an overview of strengths and weaknesses in the town and its economy. To complete the preliminary findings memo, Whiteman and Taintor spent five days in Craig gathering data and information, and interviewing key local individuals. The memo includes a review of infrastructure, housing costs, cost of living, utility costs, communication systems, education, taxation and other economic factors.

Several items and suggestions for economic diversity and development surfaced in the preliminary findings memo, even though the document is only an overview.

“We learned a bit as we went on, and learned that we are in better shape than we anticipated,” said John Pearson, Craig Chamber of Commerce and economic development committee member. “The economy is not as volatile as we first thought.”

The report advises there is no need to panic over the coal and mining industry, but assertive measures should be taken while the economy is considered healthy and before the next bust arrives.

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“These data illustrate what everyone in Craig already knows the local economy is highly tied to coal mining and to the presence of Tri-State,” states the report. “Mining brings almost $31 million of direct wages per year pumped into the local economy. Together, the mining and utilities sectors generate $52 million in wages or 40 percent of all the wages in Moffat County.”

“There’s no fire to put out, so at this point, we can really start to plan,” Pearson said.

Whiteman and Taintor suggests the community explore economic diversification that won’t depend too heavily on one industry to carry the community.

It is also suggested the town look both east and west for opportunities which Steamboat Springs may not want to capitalize on or that may come from mineral spin-offs from upcoming Vernal, Utah, projects. There is a plan under way to build a rail link from Vernal to Rifle, Colo. That construction, in addition to plans to open a dicalcium phosphate plant in Vernal, could create new opportunities for Craig in terms of transportation, service provision, industry and tourism.

One important factor, the report states, is that Craig pursue industry with wage levels above $30,000. This is important to maintain an affordable housing wage-to-price ratio. Moffat County has a 30 to 40 percent housing wage-to-price ratio with the average home costing $80,805. In 1997, the median home price in Routt County was $248,255, demonstrating a 9 to 10 percent wage-to-price ratio. According to Whiteman and Taintor, if wage increases in Moffat County do not keep pace with the increased cost of housing, Craig will see a gradual erosion in its housing wage-to-price ratio. The report advises Craig continue to offer a range in housing options to cater to all levels of income by maintaining mixed housing options as the next 500 to 1,000 units are built.

“Craig should continue to explore additional high potential target markets for diversification, including high-tech industries, specialized tourism markets, related mining-support services and retirees,” the report states.

Whiteman and Taintor’s next task is to create a draft business package a high-graphic informational presentation for businesses looking to locate in the area. The purpose of this business package will be to succinctly and professionally present Craig to prospective business owners and site location specialists.

“The business package will be used so businesses can get an idea of what we’re like and how the business would benefit by locating here,” Pearson said.

Step three in the process is a preliminary competitive review of communities that either offer lessons for Craig or are likely to become competitors for Craig. The fourth step is for Whiteman and Taintor to create a competitive review memo and slide show based on the data gathered during the competitive review.

Three months into the project, Whiteman and Taintor should provide the first memo on strategy work outlining its recommendations on how Craig should proceed with its economic development effort.

Other reports will follow, ending in the final strategy and products, including a full, revised report, the finalized Welcome to Craig package and slides for a public workshop presentation on the strategy and a promotional slide show for use at trade shows and other gatherings.

The report will provide community members with a list of Standard Industry Classification (SIC) codes. SIC codes are part of a federal business tracking program where all businesses in the country are classified by type and assigned a code. A list of six to 12 codes of businesses compatible with Craig will be provided during the TIA process.

Committee members estimate the project should be complete by the end of January.

“We’re really pleased with the thoroughness of (Whiteman and Taintor’s) work,” Pearson said. “It’s been extensive and complete and didn’t pump us up with unrealistic hopes. We’re real confident we’re going to get a good report out of this. The community will benefit from the information.”