Owens emphasizes economic development | CraigDailyPress.com

Owens emphasizes economic development

Rural communities focus of Governor Bill Owens' administration, officials say

Christina M. Currie

Under the new leadership of Gov. Bill Owens, rural communities in Colorado have the attention and resources of the governor’s economic development specialists.

Three of those specialists spoke in Craig Wednesday, promising audience members the governor had set rural economic development high on his list of priorities.

“This administration is dedicated to focusing on the whole state, not just Denver anymore,” said David Solin, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Solin, Richard Mower, business development and finance manager, and J.J. Johnston, Western Slope representative for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, were on hand at an economic development conference sponsored by Colorado Northwestern Community College. Each offered resources to Moffat County in terms of knowledge and possible funding.

According to Solin, Colorado has one of the strongest economies in the country. It ranks third in diversification of businesses and is one of the highest in per capita income, but the picture isn’t as promising as it appears. The state is being carried by five metropolitan counties. Without the statistics provided by those five counties, the state per capita income falls 22.5 percent and unemployment rises 43 percent.

“The economy in Colorado is not as strong as it looks on paper,” Solin said.

That realization is what prompted Solin to expand his department to reach rural areas. Instead of keeping economic development limited to Denver and its surrounding areas, Solin has expanded his reach by dividing the state into sectors and having representatives on hand in those areas. There are field offices in Pueblo, Greeley, Denver and Grand Junction. Johnston is the Western Slope representative and said he plans to become a resource for Moffat County.

“You’ve got to have people in the field to help the community decide what businesses to bring to the community,” Solin said.

The first step in creating economic development is to inventory resources, he said.

“What do we have in the state of Colorado that makes businesses want to come here?” he asked.

He cited the community college as a primary resource in Moffat County in terms of offering workforce training to new businesses.

Solin’s office is working to create a database or “snapshot” of Colorado communities to give to businesses interested in relocating. The snapshot will help pair new businesses with communities that want growth and have the resources to provide. It is important that a community looking to grow have cooperation and support from three sectors government, residents and businesses, Solin said. Getting that support is the first step in encouraging economic development.

Once a community has its resources inventoried and has an economic development plan, then the governor’s office gets involved offering to help a community with marketing or industrial targeting.

Craig is ahead of the process because of the work of the Craig Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee which has already secured the funding to create and implement a target industry analysis to determine what businesses would fit best with Craig’s economy, resources and way of life.

According to Solin, the economic development office does have some money which it plans to heavily invest in rural communities.

“I’m spending it on rural areas who need it, not the metro areas who don’t,” Solin said.

The funds are set aside primarily for infrastructure and training.

Personal Property Tax

According to Solin, the business personal property tax hasn’t slowed growth in Denver.

“Is a disincentive, but it doesn’t make Colorado any less appealing to businesses,” he said.

The state has so many things to offer, Solin said, and one is the guarantee that, because of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), business and personal property taxes will not increase.

“No other state can say that,” he said.

Transportation

Lack of ability to export products or to receive services in a timely fashion is a concern of any business wanting to locate in Craig, Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee Chairman Mitch Bettis said. He asked if there were any plans to improve transportation in Moffat County to alleviate that concern.

According to Solin, there is no major construction planned in Moffat County in the near future, but approval of the TRANs ballot question referendum A could increase funding for other projects as soon as the first 28 high priority projects are completed. There is also a plan, originating in Utah, for a rail line to be constructed from Utah, through Meeker to Rifle. There is no spur planned to come to Craig at this point, but the proximity of that railroad should benefit Moffat County in terms of transportation, Solin said.

DOW wildlife proposal

Ramada Inn owner Frank Moe voiced his concern about the Division of Wildlife proposal to limit out-of-state hunters.

“It’s a really big issue now,” Moe said. “If what’s proposed does go through here then it would devastate our economy.”

According to Solin, the proposal would ensure Colorado has the best hunting and said business owners may have to take a hit now to guarantee the state as “quality herds” later. He did reassure audience members that Owen’s administration supported hunting.

Telecommunications

“(Telecommunications) is the number one problem facing rural Colorado business growth in the next few years,” Solin said.

He said it’s important for people to remember that fiber optic cable is not the only option for improving rural communications there are more effective and less expensive options available.

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said the county is working to build the backbone of a telecommunications network.

“We’re putting those pieces together,” she said.