Funding plan raises questions
Commission unsure EDP will return investment
October 7, 2008
Moffat County needs to diversify its economy and not be dependent on the energy industry, said Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership officials.
EDP wants to make that its goal, they told the Moffat County Commission on Oct. 2, but the group needs funding to make it happen. The group submitted a $25,000 request to mixed reactions.
“We know you guys have an extra-tight budget,” EDP Director Darcy Trask said.
“I think you’re spending money to make money,” she added of the investment the county would be making to increase jobs and local wealth.
Commissioner Saed Tayyara said that although the EDP has the right goal in mind, the group has done nothing to make that happen in the past 20 years.
“The history, we haven’t seen results,” he said. “The fact is, we can’t be shy and bashful about it.”
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Trask responded that the powers that be – including EDP – have not done much to help the effort. Attempts to attract new businesses have been hurt by dips in funding and support.
“Every time you guys pull funding and not support efforts, you hamstring the organization,” Trask said. “You just send them back to the Dark Ages.”
The Commission’s expectations also have EDP in a catch-22, she added. The county wants EDP to attract a major employer before it will lend money or support, but the group needs more of each from the county to make that happen.
When the Commission points to the lack of public support for EDP, Trask said, it fails to recognize that working with private companies often is a behind-the-scenes affair, and the public probably won’t see results until a company actually commits to Moffat County.
Something has to come first, Trask said. Without government backing – philosophically and monetarily – businesses will continue to look elsewhere and the public will continue to see an absence of results.
“You effectively shut the doors on the community because there are other communities that have dedicated to support” economic development, Trask said.
Commissioner Tom Gray said he would “whole-heartedly” support work to streamline local government planning processes. However, he was reluctant to provide money for EDP to offer government-backed development incentives. Gray said that after other, private conversations, he felt as if EDP was interested more in using money for incentives than other actions.
“Government’s role is to make sure business has a way to succeed without government being a problem,” Gray said. “To me, you do that before you start doing other things.”
He added he was bothered that many people acknowledge government barriers as a problem but are more interested in pushing incentives than working through political issues such as city and county development regulations.
EDP officials, including board members Marianna Raftopoulos and Scott Cook, said they are not pushing one strategy, they are pushing all of them.
“The reality is, the places where economic development is working, they are doing something,” EDP board president Scott Cook said. “It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. It doesn’t even have to be money.”
Gray added that a recent visit by the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade changed his perception of what government officials can do to encourage development.
“You’ve heard me say there are pieces of this support,” he said. “If it’s a primary business that will absolutely bring jobs here and there are clear consequences if the company doesn’t do what they said they would” then I would be open to discussion.
The county expects to finalize its budget this fall, including EDP’s request. The decision may hinge on whether EDP has a plan for the money in place.
Gray said he finds it hard to give an organization money when it does not have a defined plan for how the money will be spent.
No one can predict when or which businesses will be interested in Moffat County, Trask said. Because of that, “We need to ready when they’re ready,” she added.
The EDP has about $37,300 in cash. It also made a $25,000 request to city officials, who will begin voting on the city budget this month.
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org