Economic development speaker urges Craig, Moffat leaders to focus on ‘placemaking’
Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a three-part series exploring topics from the 2018 Regional Economic Development Forum, hosted by the Economic Development Council of Colorado, partners and sponsors, in Craig on Wednesday, July 11. The series will conclude Friday with a look at economic diversification.
CRAIG — Clark Anderson framed the problem in fairly blunt terms.
“As we think about the way the economy is changing, we have to recognize the way we’ve been approaching development isn’t working,” Anderson told a group of regional business and governmental leaders at the Quality Inn & Suites July 11. “We have to change.”
That change, he said, will entail not only leveraging emergent technologies to bolster the mountain region’s economic influence, but also creating living and working spaces in which people genuinely want to live and work.
Anderson — co-founder and executive director of Community Builders, a Colorado nonprofit concerned with the creation of “more livable communities” — was speaking as part of the Economic Development Council of Colorado Regional Economic Development Forum, which drew civic leaders, business concerns and policy makers from across the EDCC’s Region 11 — Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Garfield and Mesa counties.
Anderson said Region 11— owing both to its geography and limited economic drivers — faces developmental hurdles that differ in critical ways from those encountered by Front Range communities.
“We’re not playing with the same hand as (larger cities). We don’t have the resources to achieve the same level of synergy and market power,” he said. “That’s just a fact.”
The rising tide of technology, however, presents Northwest Colorado’s idyllic mountain communities — communities like Craig, Steamboat Springs and Hayden — with a unique opportunity, Anderson said: the chance to attract location-neutral “knowledge-based industries,” and the broad base of skilled workers such industries employ.
Citing a 2015 Community Builders’ report titled “Place Value: How Communities Attract, Grow, and Keep Jobs and Talent in the Rocky Mountain West,” Anderson said trends are shifting in terms of what determines where a business chooses to locate and where skilled workers choose to live.
According to the report — which canvassed business owners and community members in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming — quality of life has usurped many of the other more traditional location drivers, including higher salaries.
According to the report, among business owners surveyed, the following concerns topped the list of the most important factors they considered when deciding to locate and maintain their businesses in their current communities.
- Overall quality of the community
- Availability of business incentives
- Complementary businesses in the community
- Favorable tax structure
- Short commute for employees
Employees surveyed expressed similar values, including:
- Safe community
- Overall quality of community
- Recreation access
- Close proximity to trails and open space
- Neighborhood character
- Good place to raise a family
“Quality of place is the king of economic development, and I mean that in a chess sense,” Anderson said. “It might not be the most dynamic piece, but if you lose it, you’re done.”
Accordingly, he said, mountain economies should strive not only to create well-paying jobs, but also to build healthy, vibrant communities that are attractive to emergent, location-neutral businesses.
Anderson added that many such industries are already relocating to smaller communities for the quality of life to be enjoyed there, and this, he said, creates a significant opportunity for smaller towns in Northwest Colorado.
“In the past, people lived where the work was,” Anderson said. “Now that location isn’t such an issue, workers are looking for quality of life — where do they want to build their lives?
“… People want great schools, amenities, parks … essentially qualility of life. That’s how to draw the skilled workers of tomorrow.”
He described this trend as a “massive market opportunity” for communities that are able to weave such neighborhoods into their plans.
This, he said, will require prioritizing quality communities over traditional land-use models.
“We have to start looking at things differently and changing how we plan,” Anderson said. “Create communities of character and authenticity, where people want to live. A lot of you have phenomenal bones to build on.”
Partnerships and strategic investment
From a policy standpoint, Anderson urged community leaders and policy makers to act as facilitators to growth by “making it legal” for the private sector to thrive.
Citing an effort in Glenwood Springs, Anderson said that community benefitted from strategic partnerships between the local library, the chamber of commerce and others.
In that instance, the initial efforts were not large, he said, and he stressed that they need not be.
“The investment doesn’t have to be huge,” Anderson said. “Big changes often begin quite small. It’s the little stuff” that can converge to create the “market gravity” necessary to thrive.
“Over time, this can lead to more catalytic change,” Anderson said. “… (It gives) people a sense of what’s possible. What it might look like. How it might work.”
The challenge, he said, is in building the relationships and partnerships needed to get things done.
“In small towns, this is the critical piece,” he said, though he added a small community is one of the few remaining places where real civility and collaboration can be observed “live and in action” in politics.
This, he said, affords the region a great opportunity to capitalize on the changing economic climate, and realizing that opportunity is best approached by answering four questions:
- Who are we? What are our values and aspirations?
- Who do we want to be?
- Where do we want to be?
- How do we get there?
Question one identifies a value, and questions 2 through 4 outline a strategy for action.
Finally, he said, it is vital to measure the impact of efforts using established indicators and metrics and answer the question: Are we creating better jobs, more accessible ladders of opportunity?
In short, are we achieving what we set out to achieve?
The event was brought to Craig by title sponsor, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc.; statewide sponsor, Colorado Workforce Development Council; regional partner sponsors, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, Rio Blanco County and Memorial Regional Health; and media sponsor, the Craig Press.
Contact Jim Patterson at jpatterson@CraigDailyPress.com or 970-875-1790.
The Best Western PLUS Deer Park Hotel and Suites has received Best Western Hotels and Resorts’ Chairman’s and Champion awards.