Leaders mull development | SteamboatToday.com

Leaders mull development

Routt County government, businesses consider economic strategies

Tamera Manzanares

Business and government leaders in Routt County and other Western Slope communities mulled about ways the state can improve Colorado’s business climate during a videoconference Friday.

The conference was arranged with Brian Vogt, director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development, who spoke from Glenwood Springs and was seeking feedback about legislation proposals, possible policy development and newly funded programs designed to help attract new businesses and industry to the state.

Routt County representatives spoke from a conference room at Yampa Valley Medical Center. Representatives from Durango, Cortez, Craig and Rangely also participated in the hour-long discussion.

Vogt explained various steps his office is taking to place Colorado communities in a better position within businesses’ radars, including a technology assessment program — a volunteer-based effort that would assist communities in developing infrastructure to successfully market their towns and attractions.

Name recognition

One of the most important ways to attract visitors and businesses is with name recognition. The state is redeveloping its Web site to strengthen Colorado’s image, Vogt said.

At the local level, COED is initiating a branding-assessment program that will send volunteers to communities seeking help in communicating their “visions.” COED hopes to do as many as 50 branding assessments in the next few years, he said.

‘Lone eagle’

Noreen Moore of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association explained the high quality of life in Routt County and other Western Slope areas has attracted entrepreneurs with businesses not dependent on specific locations. Moore questioned Vogt about how his office might help further attract location-neutral businesses, which bring higher-paying jobs.

Vogt agreed that too much reliance on tourism and its associated entry-level, service-industry jobs can bring down wages, and the COED is taking the first step to attract “lone eagle” entrepreneurs to Colorado by establishing the Advanced Colorado Center in COED. The center will house various organizations, including the new Colorado Film Commission, the Colorado Environmental Business Alliance and the Colorado Software and Internet Association.

In exchange for free office space, the organizations will provide support services for emerging business in communities, he said.

Welcome centers

Other participants in the videoconference emphasized the importance of continually improving Colorado’s well-established system of welcome centers, which are staffed largely by volunteers and encourage visitors to stop and explore more remote places such as Dinosaur, Craig and Rangely.

Vogt discussed the possibility of working with companies that provide kiosks using satellite technology, allowing visitors to pinpoint information and visuals about specific places throughout the world.

Higher education

A participant speaking from Colorado Northwest Community College in Rangely emphasized the need to make better use of colleges, which can help link towns and organizations pursuing similar economic development goals.

“I think our relationship with higher education could use a push when it comes to higher education,” Vogt said, adding that small business development centers in community colleges might be particularly helpful.

Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak asked Vogt how communities apply for branding and technology assessments and how COED will determine eligibility for the programs.

The COED just received funding for the programs and is establishing application formats and recruiting volunteers. Vogt estimated that a format should be ready for the branding assessment program by mid-February. The COED likely won’t be able to start technology assessments until March, he said.

After the videoconference, Routt County participants discussed specific steps communities in the county should take while considering branding assessment and other economic development issues. Hayden Town Manager Russ Martin emphasized the importance of using the Yampa Valley Regional Airport as a means of communicating business opportunities in the valley to visitors.

“We’re not making the connection. … Thousands of people are stepping off those planes, and thousands of dollars in businesses,” Martin said. “How do we grab some of that?”

Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan agreed but said the county and communities need to have a ready list of opportunities before marketing to visitors.

He also added the importance of providing links to such information on county and town Web sites.

In addition to marketing business opportunities, Stahoviak stressed that communities also need to identify what kind of workforce is available for specific businesses or industries.

— To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpiot.com

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