State encourages county economic plan |

State encourages county economic plan

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand County, CO Colorado

A county economic development “point person” could be the end result of a plan to boost jobs in Grand County.

In a “bottom-up” economic development meeting requested by the governor’s office and held at the SilverCreek Convention Center on Feb. 15, Executive Director Pam Caskie of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments led a brainstorming session focused on the economy of Grand County.

As many as 50 government, nonprofit and community leaders were in attendance.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested each county develop or update its economic development plan based on input from citizens, businesses and other interested parties. By May 15, the objective is to have the county plans rolled up into 14 regional plans, which collectively will roll up into a statewide economic development plan, according to statements from the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

After a brainstorming-session of listing public and private players who promote economic development in Grand County, it was pointed out at the meeting that groups such as the Business and Economic Development Association of Grand County have laid the groundwork necessary to promote “economic sustainability and vitality” in the county.

BEDA helps individual businesses with low-interest $5,000 USDA loans. But because the Association no longer has an executive director, the volunteer board has been pressed in its mission, meeting 12-times per year.

As much as $70,000 remains to be loaned. However, administration of the money and work to attract energy dollars to Grand County have been more than the six-member volunteer board can manage, representatives of BEDA said during the meeting.

Catherine Ross of the Winter Park/Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce suggested the model of the Grand County Tourism Board be mirrored in economic development. The tourism board has staff and a board of directors under the umbrella of county government.

BEDA representatives suggested the same be done with their organization, with the county creating a paid position in economic development, and the BEDA board serving in a supporting role.

“If Grand County wants to compete, they need to have someone who knows what they’re doing,” said John Dickinson, BEDA board member. “The problem for us is we don’t have the funds to get that person.”

Caskie picked up on this potential action item, and suggested Grand County’s “plan” could involve simply appointing a coordinator to encourage economic development, which she defined as first “retaining what you have, growing what you have, starting new within the community and, finally, bringing in new businesses.”

“Any economic development plan ought to reflect that wisdom,” she added.

Toward the end of the meeting, county commissioners agreed to explore the possibility.

County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran pointed out how expanding health care in the county with the new Middle Park Medical Center will help capture dollars that otherwise leave the county. And, Commissioner Nancy Stuart said long-range success of the county could in part depend on the success of the airports and cooperation on use of the railroad.

But Winter Park Mayor Jim Myers wondered if the governor’s direction on economic development planning was a waste of energies that could be better directed elsewhere. “Would we be better off getting all the counties together to get rid of or modify TABOR and Gallagher?… We’re in a downward spiral. We need to save Colorado.”

And Kremmling Mayor Tom Clark pointed out how regulations from the federal and state governments usually discourage towns from economic prosperity.

Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke called for the need to inventory what each part of the county has to offer to attract opportunities.

But Caskie eventually brought the group back to focusing on a simple action item rather than these loftier endeavors.

Identifying an economic-development point-of-contact in the county may be the next step, she said.

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