Northwest Region urged to ‘get together’ on economic development
July 12, 2018
Editor's Note: This is the first 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. Part two will be published Wednesday, July 18, followed by part three on Friday, July 20.
CRAIG — A clear strategy has emerged for rural communities working to grow and develop in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. That strategy — "get together, as a region" — was the message delivered by Stephanie Copeland, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade in her keynote speech at the Regional Economic Development Forum, hosted by the Economic Development Council of Colorado, partners and sponsors in Craig on Wednesday, July 11.
Copeland explained that a regional approach allows rural communities to maximize resources, leverage strengths and amplify voices, something she said would be "really important to gain the attention and resources" the area deserves.
She used the new Opportunity Zones initiative as an example. Opportunity Zones is a program that seeks to address the uneven economic recovery and persistent lack of growth that have left many communities across the country behind by making certain geographic areas eligible for new federal tax incentives. The Opportunity Zones Program, established in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, identifies 126 census tracks in 46 counties across Colorado, qualifying them for the program.
Copeland said an estimated $6 trillion in unrealized capital gains are "sitting on balance sheets looking for places to go."
Copeland said to compete with other zones in places, such as Harlem and Detroit, "We have to make sure that Colorado, specifically our zones and tracks, are appealing. If we eliminate the friction between money and opportunity, we will go along way to capturing that pool of money."
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Colorado is one of the states intentionally focused on rural communities, with 12 tracts — geographic areas eligible for investment — in Garfield, Mesa, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.
"Together, we do more. We (OEDIT) are a committed partner," Copeland said.
Colorado consistently outranks other states for business and economic performance.
"We are finally seeing progress outside of the Front Range. We are doing the right things. The foundational elements that were put into place are now paying off, and we need to continue making investments," Copeland said.
In addition to statewide statistics, Copeland illustrated her point with 2018 Labor Force data, showing 75 percent participation in employment in Moffat County, with an unemployment rate dipping to 2.5 percent.
In other counties, the number of people employed has reached more than 80 percent, indicating a need to recruit workers from outside.
"It's a testament that you are doing so many things to provide an opportunity for your constituents and your kids. They are coming back because the opportunity is here," she said.
The top industries in the region continue to be mining, government, accommodation/food services, construction and retail.
"You’re indexed into lower waged industries. You do not have a big concentration of higher-wage jobs," she said.
However, health care is growing, as is the professional services sector, and Copeland noted that manufacturing and the arts are showing "green shoots," with growth potential.
She also noted the importance of preparing for the next dip in the economy.
"We are experiencing year 10 of expansion. If we have one more year, then it's the longest expansion since the Depression. We need to be prepared for the next cycle," Copeland said.
Copeland's talk was part of a day-long forum organized by a steering committee, including Kateline Cook from Rio Blanco County, Michelle Perry and JoBeth Tupa from the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, Christina Oxley from the Craig Chamber of Commerce, and representatives from economic development entities in Steamboat Springs, Grand Junction, Rifle and Gypsum.
Topics for presentations and panel discussions by expert speakers from across the state included the importance of placemaking in economic development, an update on Opportunity Zones, addressing Colorado's skilled labor shortage and how to diversify a resources-based economy — topics that will be considered in more depth in the next stories in this series.
Many of the participants arrived the day before and participated in a tour of Trapper Mine and a reception at the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
When introducing the keynote speaker, Drew Kramer, Tri-State representative and Craig Chamber of Commerce vice president, said, "It's great for Craig to stand up and show that it can hold conferences like this one. I think Craig is proving that it has the capacity to bring people here to entertain them. I hope you stay and spend some money."
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.