RANGELY I On Jan. 12, the Rangely Town Council and Rio Blanco County Commissioner Jeff Eskelson along with county Economic Development Director Katelin Cook met with the Better City group via phone conference to discuss funding and next steps in the process of redeveloping the town’s economic footing.
Several local business owners, Colorado Northwestern Community College and the Rangely School District were also represented.
In Rangely the primary projects being pursued are the growth of the CNCC Aviation Technology and Maintenance programs, a CNCC student housing project, development of outdoor recreation and a data center. The stated purpose of the projects is to provide higher-wage jobs in the community as well as diversify the local economy.
Much of the project has been modeled after a similar undertaking that was deemed successful in Blanding, Utah.
The meeting was run primarily by Eskelson and Cook, who first discussed funding mechanisms for the projects.
The first funding that will be required will be to pay for the consulting and implementation fees. Cook put the cost at $100,000. A grant covering 50 percent of the cost has already been obtained, and the town and county have agreed to split the remaining $50,000 with each committed to paying $25,000.
The secondary portion of funds needed will be determined on a case-by-case basis and as the needs become clear once the plan is set in motion. No potential amount was given, but Cook suggested that low-interest loans and grant funds could potentially be utilized.
“You’ve got to look long term,” Eskelson said.
The group then discussed several issues and concerns that had been raised by local citizens. The first was the worry that a large number of international flight students would shift the cultural basis of the town.
Eskelson tried to dampen these worries, saying that the students would want to experience western Americana.
“Twenty students won’t affect Rangely, Rangely will affect them,” he said.
Another question brought to the table was what had happened to the other ideas that were originally included in the Community Assessment phase of the project.
Cook informed the group that with the exception of the Asian Language Center, all ideas had been included but some of them had been combined into bigger projects.
One business owner wanted to know how set in stone the plans were and if there would be the potential to make changes along the way.
Cook responded that the plans were “conceptual” and could be adapted to what works.
The prospective amount of population growth was also discussed.
It is believed that the Aviation Mechanic program at CNCC will attract between three and five full time residents while the Aviation Technology program will be bringing in primarily students. The student housing project is estimated to add another three to four jobs early on.
Concerns about the amount of leakage (the amount of money that leaves town to be spent elsewhere) that the town continues to experience were also raised.
Better City responded that it is hoped that creating a well-built product locally would prevent leaking. All in attendance agreed that a full-service grocery store would have to be part of that equation.
Part of the leakage discussion also tapped into the number of oil and gas employees who choose to live in Vernal rather than Rangely, thus hurting the local economy and schools.
The idea of somehow incentivizing them to stay in Rangely was mentioned, but no formal plans were made.
Because a large portion of the plans—three of the five projects—revolve around the community college, CNCC President Russell George was brought into the discussion and asked about his intentions and view of the projects.
George told the group, “How much can we grow, is the question. We have already doubled from 20 to 40 students in the aviation program in the last two years.”
George expressed a desire to explore the ideas more. He also said he believes it is a good opportunity, however he is also concerned about how the infrastructure costs needed to expand would be paid for.
“I would be surprised if we could manage large growth,” he said. However, he followed up saying, “Growth is good for the college the same way it is good for the town.”
The county and town expressed a desire to keep the momentum rolling on the project by preparing for next steps.
Cook expects to quickly seek out competitive bids for the implementation phase (as is required by law) and hopes to finalize that contract by Feb. 8. At that time, the Town of Rangely and the county will also be working on a formal intergovernmental agreement (IA) for the project.
Eskelson seemed pleased with the work of Better City thus far, stating that they had undergone a very thorough vetting process when hired and were eventually chosen because they were one of the few companies that had experienced success with their plans.
“They have a proven track record,” he said.
The Rangely Town Council plans to vote on the IA, thus propelling the plan forward, at its next meeting on Jan. 26.