Economic development projects advancing throughout county

RBC I Economic development projects in Rio Blanco County (RBC) are moving forward, among them the launch of two Small Business Development Center (SBDC) satellite offices and assessing the economic impacts of coal in the region.
RBC Economic Development Coordinator Katelin Cook said the SBDC satellites, located in the Meeker and Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce offices, will offer business owners and would-be entrepreneurs free consultant services and quarterly workshops.

Topics range from starting a business to managing marketing, health care and human resources as companies grow. Business owners may take additional workshops at the SBDC’s main office in Grand Junction.
Residents with experience in consulting could also become certified business consultants working as subcontractors through the Colorado SBDC program. A $10,000 SBDC grant and $10,000 from the county will fund the consulting, workshops and some marketing materials.
Meeker Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Stephanie Kobald and Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kristin Steele are currently training to become certified SBDC counselors who will market upcoming workshops and connect entrepreneurs and business owners to consultants.
While the chambers have offered business workshops before with nominal turnouts, Cook said the SBDC connection should ramp up interest and attendance.
“One of the things we have is the credibility that the SBDC has built up over the years,” she said. “Because it’s a state initiative, there’s some marketing behind that from a state perspective.”
A study funded primarily by the Economic Development Council of Colorado that outlines the economic impacts of coal in Rio Blanco, Moffat and Routt counties will be finalized in coming weeks. The study gives the percent of Gross Regional Product coal brings to each county, along with employment, wage and output figures. Cook said the study’s purpose is twofold.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, so we don’t know what to expect, but we know this industry is somewhat coming under attack,” she said. “If there are new regulations, we can say, ‘This industry is huge to northwest Colorado, and here are some facts that demonstrate that.’
“At the same time, we’re looking at new industries we should be attracting to Colorado. One is coal science and science-based processes revolving around coal production that might create additional, diversified uses of coal, while using this product in more of an environmentally friendly way.”
The county is also beginning studies in Rangely and Meeker to assess existing childcare options. Cook has been researching state regulations for childcare services and preparing a survey for employees in both communities, including workers’ current childcare situation, costs and impact on work and family life.
Although Rangely has Giant Step Preschool and Child Care Center and at least one certified home daycare provider, Meeker’s options are more limited since a daycare center closed several years ago.
“We know that there is a need,” she said. “When (the Meeker center) closed, it put a lot of families in a hard spot in terms of childcare … Now the lack of childcare is putting an extreme hardship on employees. It’s really difficult for some of them to maintain steady employment.”
Depending on survey and regulation findings, Cook will likely explore non-profit and for-profit options, along with researching grant funding and potential locations.
Next, the process of creating a county economic development plan in 2015 has prompted a Request For Proposals (RFP) for economic assessments.
The county doesn’t currently have a plan, Cook said, so the process begins at the ground level with community assessments, followed by baseline assessments to create a picture for development in coming years.
“By the end of the year, the commissioners want a recommended action plan that will be rolled into their county investment strategy,” she said. “That way, they know what projects or programs will make the best use of the taxpayers’ dollars to help the communities … Also, when you pair (community and baseline) assessments, you can get a really good picture of where some opportunities may lie and if there’s grant funding available.”
Ten businesses have expressed interest in bidding, Cook said, adding that a short timeline has the chosen company scheduled to begin assessments Feb. 24. The county will help fund the project with dollars allotted by the state’s Rural Economic Development Initiative fund.
The county has hired Yampa Valley Data Partners (YVDP) this year to help track county economic indicators and socioeconomic information, Cook said.
“Looking at these figures now means we’re taking a proactive step to keep on top of where we are economically,” Cook said. “It could actually help us divert economic downturns before they happen.”
Another county goal of growing cultural heritage tourism locally and regionally has Rio Blanco County allocating $5,000 to the Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage Program (NWCCHP) this year. The idea, Cook said, is to partner with other communities in the region to create “tours” or “journeys” that out-of-towners take for recreational, educational or historic purposes.
“By pooling our resources with other involved communities, it gives us more bang for our buck,” Cook said. “Each town can market itself, but that’s challenging. Together, we can market an entire tour over a larger area and show them a lot more of what we all have to offer.”
Finally, Cook is creating a marketing package to attract more businesses and employees to the area.
“It will be a sort of ‘how-to’ guide to living in Rio Blanco County,” she said.