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County, city talk economic growth

Moffat officials seek to apply for grants

Collin Smith

Local politicians gave some insight into how they might approach future economic development proposals when they voted Tuesday on whether to support three grant proposals.

Darcy Trask, director of the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership, asked the county and city to lend their names to grant applications for three potential business ventures: a local inventor, who ran out of start-up capital; a community business incubator, which would provide support for new businesses; and a privately-owned medical office building, proposed by an out-of-state company.

In each case, the applications are for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grants, and the grants would pay for feasibility studies to see whether the ventures would be viable in Craig.

None of the grants require any tax dollars.

The commission and council approved signing letters of support for the first two, the inventor and the incubator, but members wanted more information before signing a letter for a new medical office park.

Trask first appeared at the commission’s meeting Tuesday morning. A letter for the local inventor quickly passed, 3-0.

The commission’s chief concerns with any economic development proposal has been whether the project provides the community with primary jobs – positions that pay well enough for a person to raise a family and buy a house if he or she chooses – and whether it will compete with existing businesses.

The inventor, who wants to start a light manufacturing business and sell products nationally and internationally, represented everything the commission has said it wants: a primary business that would not compete with local companies.

The incubator was a tougher proposition for the commission to support, but it did, on a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Tom Gray dissenting.

Gray said he could not support a project that would subsidize new, non-primary businesses that would compete with existing local businesses.

Business incubators take in start-up businesses and provide low-market rent, free counseling and other benefits, all of which Gray said amounts to subsidies.

“I can tell you right up front, that’s not where I’m at,” Gray said. “Economic development sold itself all along as saying, ‘We need to diversify our economy.’ Starting up another carpet store is not going to diversify our economy, and those that are already here have paid their dues.”

Gray said he would support the incubator if it restricted itself to new businesses that would not compete with existing ones.

“But what if that new carpet store owner is a 20-year-old Moffat County High School graduate who’s looking for a way to stay in the community?” Trask responded. “The benefit to the community is greater when we accept those businesses.”

Gray disagreed.

“That’s socialism that says the overall benefit to the community is greater than the overall benefit to the individual,” he said.

The other commissioners, Tom Mathers and Audrey Danner, said they voted to support the feasibility study because they want more information before they make up their mind on an incubator.

However, Mathers said several times he wanted to see an honest study, not one that says what EDP officials want it to say.

“I know – we all know – that sometimes studies can be swayed,” he said. “I want an accurate study.”

When it came to the medical office building, the commissioners voted, 3-0, to table their decision until they talk with The Memorial Hospital.

Officials at the hospital, which is owned by the county, have said they would like to build a medical office park to compliment the new facility on Craig’s west side.

Danner, who supported a business incubator despite Gray’s concerns that it would compete with existing businesses, said she probably will oppose supporting the grant proposal for a medical office building because it would compete with county health care.

Mathers and Gray challenged her on that point and asked why the county should oppose competition with itself but support possible competition for private businesses.

“I don’t think we need to support that,” Danner said.

The City Council also unanimously approved, 5-0, supporting a feasibility for the local inventor, though councilors Ray Beck and Byron Willems were absent.

The incubator proposal, which instigated a lot of discussion among the commissioners, was less contentious for city officials and likewise supported after a unanimous vote.

However, Councilor Jennifer Riley said the vote does not mean the city supports building an incubator.

“For me, the business incubator is a long way off,” she said. “This is just a feasibility study – that doesn’t cost the city anything – to find out more about what this could do in the community.”

She added she expects some local business owners will oppose building an incubator, if the project ever gets to that point.

“I may not support it, either, if those businesses have good points, no matter what the study comes back and says,” Riley said.

The medical office building was, however, a similar sticking point for city officials and their county counterparts.

A motion to sign a letter of support for that project was defeated, 2-3, with Councilors Terry Carwile and Gene Bilodeau in the minority. Riley, Councilor Joe Herod and Mayor Don Jones voting against the motion.

Those opposed said they needed more information before they could lend support to an outside company building doctors’ offices here.

Jones also questioned why the government should fund studies, instead of other, possibly more useful, projects.

Trask answered that lenders, public and private, often require a professional study before they will provide funding.

“I don’t disagree with you,” Trask said. “Studies often tell us what we already know, but we use them to tell someone else that information.”

The commission plans to review the medical office building proposal at its next meeting Tuesday, but city staff does not know whether the council plans to take another vote on the issue.


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