Open for Business: Data suggests future growth in Moffat County to come from within
CRAIG — Pioneers are credited with laying the foundation of Moffat County’s mineral and agricultural economy, and according to the newly completed Business Opportunity Toolkit, pioneers of a different sort might provide the next wave of growth for the region.
“Moffat County is Colorado’s last frontier,” declares the first line of the toolkit report.
According to a claim in the Colorado Rural Health Center, Snapshot of Rural Health in Colorado 2018, when the population is compared with landmass and services, Moffat County is not only rural, but also frontier.
As in the past, the notion of a frontier is expected to lure visitors and new residents, providing conditions favorable for expansion of already existing businesses.
“… The next generation of pioneers have continually looked further afield to find the next area to settle. … In the coming decades, it will transform the county and the city of Craig, bringing new business opportunities and shopping and services,” according to the toolkit report.
Despite anticipated continued declines in legacy business sectors, such as mineral extraction, the next generation of pioneers is expected to keep the county population level.
“Moffat County has obstacles that prevent it from competing effectively for most outside business investment, and there are no significant gaps in existing industry supply changes that might be filled local,” according to the toolkit report. “… The county does have the opportunity to develop from within, promoting entrepreneurship, growing its small businesses and agricultural sector, growing its tourism base, and attracting the next wave of settlers who will often create or bring their own small businesses when they relocate.”
These conclusions fit with Colorado Department of Labor predictions, which foresee the greatest increase in Moffat County jobs in the near term will be seen in health care, transportation, agriculture (animal production), and the retail sector.
An analysis of 20 years of business activity in the county, compiled from Dun & Bradstreet business listing data and performed by consultants Place Dynamics, suggested there are few, if any, gaps requiring new business development.
“The county’s small and stable to decreasing population and changes within the retail industry will make it difficult to add new businesses or grow sales at existing businesses without tapping the potential of the great number of visitors coming to the area,” according to the toolkit report.
The problem, as identified by the study, is that significant numbers of visitors are visiting far western parts of the county, then traveling to Vernal. Residents also travel out of the county to find greater retail selection and dining options.
This, according to an analysis of sales data, results in $26.5 million in market potential flowing to stores in other places and $10.9 million lost to restaurants outside the area.
Reducing the leaks and capturing more visitor dollars will require changes to business practice; investment in tourism infrastructure, such as improved way-finding and increased marketing of area attractions, according to the toolkit report.
“… The county is best served by a strategy of helping existing retail businesses to improve their performance, rather than by trying to attract new businesses for which there is insufficient demand.”
Modern pioneers travel with mobile devices and need a different set of provisions than those who originally settled Moffat County. Orienting products and services toward visitor needs and improved mobile/web marketing are thought to be two of the ways area businesses might begin to capture a greater share of those dollars.
The Business Opportunity Toolkit was funded by $55,000 from a Department of Local Affairs REDI — rural economic development initiative — grant, a $25,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture community development grant, a $15,000 cash match from the Local Marketing District, and a $27,000 in-kind match from the Smart Business Alliance.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.