Reviewing the Better City contracts, three years later

RBC | After three years with Better City the town of Rangely and Rio Blanco County have both chosen not to renew their contracts while Meeker prepares to adopt a new, independent contract with the company. With the joint economic development effort changing directions each entity has reviewed the project, with all of its ups and downs, and is developing future goals.

Rangely—Total Contract Cost
Town of Rangely—$59,003, Rio Blanco County—$69,709.46
“The goal of our affiliation with Better City was to enhance economic development and vitality through a public information and feedback process and implementation of plans aligned with community assets and research,” said Town Manager Peter Brixius. “Objectively speaking, I believe Better City researched and provided the Town of Rangely, the Urban Renewal Authority/RDA and CNCC with a rationale for further diversification of our economic base and a plan to move the needle in the right direction. The shortfalls within the plan are really the consequence of our rapidly changing economic environment as well as state budgeting decisions.”
In Rangely the project began with ideas focused on the expansion of Colorado Northwestern Community College, data centers, an Asian language center and downtown development including retail and social venues. As the project progressed the goals shifted with more time spent exploring grocery options in town, a call center, airplane maintenance and repair operations and a drone program at CNCC.
“Before all this began, and important to the process of determining opportunities for the community as previously mentioned, we conducted several public meetings, surveys and community forums in order to define what the potential priorities would be,” Brixius said.
Brixius believes that the downturn in the oilfield complicated the process. “In an environment where our largest commercial primary employers were downsizing and consolidating, incremental increases in property values, necessary for this plan to work and support the recruitment of a developer, would have been very difficult,” he said. Additionally, the fact that many of the ideas relied directly on CNCC provided hurdles. “… the decision-making process of the community and college would have to coincide in a similar time-table in order to achieve the desired economic effect,” he added.
Brixius cited several areas that he believes Better City provided real value to the community including the expanding drone programs at CNCC and the idea of propelling the local broadband infrastructure into remote working opportunities. He also said, “Work on retail opportunities initially proposed has begun to evolve around discussions related to member owner Cooperative retail opportunities and the benefits for our community,” referring to creation of an RDA subcommittee to explore the development of a grocery cooperative.

Meeker—Total Contract Cost
Town of Meeker — $144,065.82, Rio Blanco County — $98,164.05
Meeker Town Manager Scott Meszaros is excited to continue their work with Better City. “They have been fantastic. The reports and process they provided was excellent. The housing report, and other technical work literally was all spot on for our opportunities and economic advantages,” he said.
Meszaros went on with glowing words about the project and Better City saying, “I can tell you that traveling to the Farm Show, and networking with them, the Outdoor Adventure Center is a home run so to speak. Once the elected officials and community withdrew the public financing piece, that made it more of a risk to investors for such a small community, not that we do not have the funds on hand to capitalize on that project. It comes down to taking an active role in our future versus sitting back and waiting for things to happen. Those decisions lie with the elected officials and ultimately community as a whole. Many of the proposed activities and concepts are definitely moving forward and occurring. I am hopeful that the Outdoor Center concept does ultimately develop and creates a destination amenity for our community and region.”
Better City’s suggestions for development in Meeker originally included river corridor development, outdoor recreation, a meat processing plant, a culinary arts school, shooting sports center and retirement communities.
Meszaros said that moving forward the Meeker Urban Renewal Authority will work with Better City to seek out housing development and working to attract an OHV sales/rental operator.
“From a purely financial standpoint, the cost for utilizing their expertise and services was a no-brainer. They have developed a ton of interest and leads and provided analytical insight into where the assets and advantages for the town and county should go,” Meszaros said.

Rio Blanco County—Total Contract Cost
Rio Blanco County — $167,873.51

The county picked up a portion of the total contract costs for both Rangely and Meeker, pledging $69,709.46 on the Rangely end of the contract and $98,164.05 in Meeker. Not all of those funds have yet been spent. They also received two $50,000 rural economic development grants to offset those costs. County Economic Development Coordinator Katelin Cook explained the vast difference in spending saying,
“The discrepancy between the two communities is due to elected officials’ authorization to take on more or less projects, budget constraints, etc.”
When Better City released their local development plans only one recommendation was made for the county: a natural gas power plant. According to Cook the feasibility study for the plant was never completed due to a lack of funds. “That is like a $100,000 project if you were to create something that could actually be taken to investors or pitched as a business expansion idea for an electric company,” she said.
“We have seen a lot of great momentum and success with economic development over the past several years. However, it is really quite difficult to point at one thing, such as ‘Better City,’ as the driver for success. We were doing many things alongside the work Better City was doing for us, and I believe that both parallel tracks are what have provided success—meaning we would not be as successful if Better City was working alone, nor would the county/towns have achieved the things we did without the work done by Better City.”
Moving forward Cook said the county’s economic development department will continue to be a partner with the towns in their goals, which will possibly remain focused on the work done by Better City.
“The Better City work provided a lot of great background info and the key messaging needed to develop new industries—there are some struggles we will need to overcome to make the business recruitment a reality, but it can happen in time. Unfortunately, the feeling of “we hit a dead end” exists with some people, but we have tenacity to continue pushing forward for community development and industry diversification.”
Pending budget approval in 2019 Cook hopes to see her department specifically focus on building up the Small Business Development Center, participate in collaborative tourism marketing and outdoor recreation development, continue to participate with the Colorado Tourism Office on their rural destination development work, solve workforce issues posed by employers, broadband marketing, and promotion/utilization of business incentives that are available such as enterprise and opportunity zones.

By Jen Hill
jen@theheraldtimes.com