Workforce development a top priority for regional economic council
Housing, child care and transportation are other key issues
The Northwest Colorado Development Council has identified five priority areas to focus on — many of them at the heart of local employment issues.
The group was born out of an existing partnership between Routt and Moffat counties last year when it added Rio Blanco County and municipalities like Meeker and Rangely. The goal is to better organize economic development in a part of Colorado that is losing many of the extraction industry jobs it was built around.
Christine Rambo, project manager for the council, said they are set to meet with employers and businesses around Northwest Colorado in the coming weeks and the effort has already spurred some ideas.
“There are certain problems that exist regionally, one being workers,” said Routt County Commissioner Tim Redmond, who chairs the council. “When I look at the entire approach here, what I look at are members within this region that do not have the capacity.”
“With having administrative support and grant management, the smaller communities that want to go after (grants) can use the (council) as a vehicle to move forward,” he continued.
Rambo said some of the group’s work is already creating relationships locally.
One problem the group has identified is a shortage of people with a commercial drivers license, an issue that is being addressed through Colorado Northwestern Community College’s CDL Program. But updated guidelines require students to spend time with an instructor in these big vehicles.
In conversations with Steamboat Springs Transit Manager Jonathan Flint, Rambo said he offered to borrow some city equipment for this training. She has also looked into using some decommissioned buses.
“This is an example of how even just the collaboration and knowledge sharing, information sharing is really working from a regional perspective,” Rambo said. “More CDL drivers is better for the region as a whole.”
Other priorities for the council include addressing affordable housing issues, a lack of access to child care and regional transportation, Rambo said.
While Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he appreciated the scope of what the group was doing by focusing on community issues because “community development is economic development,” he added that there have been regional efforts to tackle some of these issues before.
One in particular was housing, Corrigan said, and Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton recalled that when the Yampa Valley Housing Authority was established, the southern and western parts of the county weren’t interested in joining that effort.
“I struggle with the concept of Routt County engaging on some regional housing effort,” Corrigan said, referencing the housing authority. “Helping to support some kind of parallel effort feels a little bit duplicative to me.”
Rambo responded by saying that while the housing authority has done well with larger projects in Steamboat, many of the smaller towns in Northwest Colorado don’t have the same housing needs, making it difficult to attract a developer to a larger project.
One idea that has come out of the council would be a regional proposal process, allowing a developer to bid on a larger project that would develop units in multiple communities. Redmond said this idea was one he thought would benefit from a regional approach.
“Rangely, some of these smaller communities, if they are looking to do a project of four to five units, may not have enough attraction for a construction company,” Redmond said. “If, regionally, we could string our projects together, bring the costs down, assure them with some work in the area, I thought that was viable.”
Melton also expressed some concern about the council potentially duplicating efforts of other organizations, specifically around housing and child care.
“I would lean more toward a coordinating role than taking on a lot of projects independently,” Melton said. “I would want to make sure that we’re all working together to coordinate those efforts rather than there being competitive interests.”
Rambo said the council’s bylaws will prevent competition because any one entity can veto a proposal. Because of this, issues and projects that are mutually beneficial will rise to the top, she said.
“Individual communities are going to have their own needs,” Redmond said. “For a project to come out of the (council), it has to have 100% support by all the members. In some ways, I see that as a little bit of a failsafe.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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