Michelle Perry: From the way things were to the way they will be | CraigDailyPress.com

Michelle Perry: From the way things were to the way they will be

Michelle Perry/For the Craig Press

Michelle Perry

Editor's note: Michelle Perry is executive director of Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership and Marianna Raftopoulos Business Success Center, both of which have dissolved, effective today, Wednesday, Feb. 20. This final column is co-authored by the 2019 Board of Directors: Chairman Luke Tucker, Vice Chairman/Secretary Rich Thompson, Treasurer Chris Jones, Derek Duran, Kelsea Henry, Justin Kawcak, and David Ulrich, Ed.D.

We can't help but be reflective today.

The organizations we manage, the Craig-Moffat County Economic Development Partnership, Inc., and Marianna Raftopoulos Business Incubator Center, are dissolving today after 17 years and six years of service to our community, respectively.

CMEDP was born of the drive to lead our community forward with the founding members representing the city of Craig, Moffat County, Colorado Northwestern Community College, and two local banks. We have historically been funded by local government contributions and memberships from public and private partners.

If you're an avid reader of the Craig Press, you've noticed the ongoing struggle to garner operational funding year over year from the city and county and to develop shared goals with the elected officials representing us at these entities.

When city officials proposed in summer 2018 that we instead consider adding a municipal economic development department with a business leader advisory board, we were intrigued by the opportunity to facilitate cohesive strategic planning. The proposal would have allowed city officials to demonstrate tangible results and allowed staff to have the security to powerfully move long-term economic development efforts forward without continually fundraising to keep the doors open.

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However, Craig City Council rejected that proposal on the final 2019 budget vote and opted instead to itself lead community development projects, totaling far more than the creation of the economic development department creation would have cost taxpayers.

After many discussions with our members and other partners, the board of directors made the difficult decision to dissolve for lack of local government support.

But that does not mean — in fact, it cannot mean — that economic development is no longer a critical need. Our community is up against a fight for its life, and we need powerful economic development more now than likely ever in our past.

We sincerely hope the city's proposed project-based efforts can have a meaningful impact on the business climate and investment temperament in our community. With the decline of the energy industry inevitable and bearing down on Craig and Moffat County, it's too critical that economic development succeed for them to not have that impact.

We'd also like to remind our elected officials who have attended our numerous engagement opportunities — and educate those who have not — what true economic development is and why it's a critical governmental role that leads elected officials nationally to budget an average of 1.5 to 2.5 percent of general fund expenditures to that purpose.

Coordinated and comprehensive economic development is a long-term activity that generates wealth, diversifies the economic base of the community, grows and retains jobs, builds the local tax base, and bolsters the quality of life for residents. It's the driver that raises the revenue to fund the services you are obligated and expected to serve to your citizens. It creates the environment to retain and grow businesses, develops a well-trained workforce, and offers business owners confidence when investing in this community. It takes a clear vision and a concentrated, continual effort toward that vision over an extended period.

We see this as the ideal time to remind the community of the projects on which we were working to ensure continued momentum and accountability moving forward. Our No. 1 priority goal was building a municipally owned middle-mile broadband network. We had completed the design and engineering on the network and had lined up last-mile public and private customers. We had applied for and presented on state funding, with matching dollars from the Moffat County Local Marketing District and Yampa Valley Electric Association. We would have been granted those funds had we not decided to instead make way for YVEA to build its own network to serve its members — who are also our constituents — that held the same objectives as our project. That fiber build is a huge win in our community's column, and we are proud of the promised outcome. Look for YVEA to begin construction soon.

We operated the local satellite office for the Colorado Small Business Development Center and served as many as 100 business clients every year. We assisted with financial planning, accessing government programs, and facilitating matching investors and property owners. Please call on the Craig Chamber of Commerce to continue in this role as funding allows.

We were the driver for Craig and Moffat County's inclusion in programs such as Opportunity Zone, Colorado Rural Jump-Start, Enterprise Zone, Blueprint 2.0, and Colorado Rural Academy for Tourism Studio 101. We helped to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and technical assistance awards to guide our leaders' work and facilitate additional outside investment. We actively solicited several conferences to be hosted in our community, bringing in an additional hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for lodgers, vendors, and retailers. We worked with the state to create our community's new brand, the principles of which have been adopted by several entities in their logos.

Our community needs someone — better yet, a team of people — day in and day out focusing on economic development. It cannot be an afterthought or a postponed priority. Our future depends on the decisions and investments made today. And the downturn is coming quicker than we fear many acknowledge.

This isn't about me, this board of directors, the organizations' founders, our past elected officials, our current elected officials, or our future elected officials. This isn't about what's been done, it's not about how any of us can gain a sense of power bolstered by a loud minority, and it's not about today. This is about this community's future and what you want it to look like for your business, your children's livelihoods, and maintaining the sense of place we've worked so hard to identify. This is about what Craig will look like in five, 10, 50 years. You might not be around to enjoy the spoils of your hard work today, but we implore you to please look far down the road and not just to the next election.

That said, this is an opportune time to remind city residents that Craig City Council elections are April 2. Press your candidates to understand how they plan to smartly invest in the sustainability and growth of your local economy. What's their vision for our community's vibrancy and sustainability into the future? How are they going to protect and expand what's important to you?

While our community transitions from the way things were to the way they will be, we need thoughtful, creative leaders who will make smart, informed decisions. We need citizens who will voice their wishes for wise investments to develop into the community in which you wish to live. We need a clear vision and an unwavering pursuit of achieving those goals. And the members of this board of directors intend to continue to be front and center for these discussions.

Economic development is the most crucial role for our community's leaders at this critical time in our history. We hope you'll help us keep this role and the projects we've spearheaded top of mind. Economic development is the key to Craig and Moffat County's future success. Let's not forget that.