Economic development professionals say rural is new ‘inner city’ at Craig workshop
CRAIG — The economic landscapes of rural communities are changing.
Rural communities across America are facing lower economic status, lower education levels, higher wage gap, poorer health, higher rates of teen birth, and greater impacts from the opioid epidemic, said Laura Lewis Marchino, executive director of Region 9 Economic Development District during an workshop — “The Principals and Practices of Economic Development” — held in Craig on Monday, Sept. 24.
The workshop provided a primer on economic development and specific local information resulting from the Business Opportunity Toolkit — a grant-funded project to develop resources for data-based decision making for business growth.
Lewis pointed to a Wall Street Journal article from May 26, 2017, which claims that “rural is the new ‘inner city.’”
The article noted — and Lewis agrees — these challenges are more apparent in rural communities in western parts of the United States, where vast areas of public land keep rural areas isolated, with great space between communities and, sometimes, basic services.
“Roughly 60 jobs in non-metro Colorado is equivalent to about 240 jobs in Denver metro area,” she said, adding that losing or gaining jobs is, therefore, more impactful in rural areas.
“Quality of life is largely determined by community wealth — it begins with a good job. Community wealth is created through primary job growth,” Lewis said.
She pointed out that public lands also offer opportunities for scenic beauty, improve quality of life, and spur tourism and outdoor recreation. Further, rural communities often offer more affordable housing than larger neighboring communities, giving workers a more affordable place to live.
“That is a positive,” Lewis said, adding that, with very little economic critical mass, there is very little margin for error.
She said economic development — a group of policies and activities that positively influence economic change — can be used to increase critical mass, expand the resource base, expand markets and market diversity, pool resources, strive for a balance of people and business, and establish productive rural-urban linkages.
A place to start is with an implementation of recommendations from the newly completed Business Opportunity Tool Kit.
CMEDP Executive Director Michelle Perry presented an overview of a report from the Business Opportunity Toolkit project, a discussion for implementation steps and local incentives.
The toolkit report by Place Dynamics concluded the following.
• There is not much opportunity for recruiting new businesses.
• The greatest need is helping existing businesses grow into new product lines and new markets.
• The focus should be on helping entrepreneurs launch new small businesses.
• Recruitment efforts should try to attract individuals who want to own a business in the community.
• The biggest industry opportunities lie in textiles, construction, niche products, and USDA-inspected meat processing.
The toolkit includes 19 recommendations for action grouped around five goals. A digital copy of the report is available in this story.
Lewis said 80 percent of jobs come from existing business.
“Grow your own. Every big business started as a small business,” she said.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.
When it opens later this year, the Memorial Regional Health medical office building will recognize supporters with a hand-forged iron tree of life.