Building a prosperous Rio Blanco County

By Katelin Cook

Economic Development Coordinator

Special to the Herald Times

PART ONE

RBC | Recently the Herald Times covered a story about the Center for Outdoor Adventure being proposed for Meeker. This is great news, but this is only one aspect of a bigger plan; a plan where the sum of the parts will be greater than the whole. We are following a comprehensive and holistic plan to build prosperity in Rio Blanco County. This plan is not a house of cards, but a plan that is founded on research and discovery. Through a series of articles, we will share each of the components of the plan. Rio Blanco County and the towns of Meeker and Rangely invested in an intensive research and discovery program to gather fact-based and data driven information that could be translated into a plan of action that will bring new money and new jobs to Rio Blanco County. The research process included community assessments, economic assessment and market analysis in order to develop a Recommended Action Plan. Why does Rio Blanco County need Economic Development? Between 2009 and 2013, revenues for RBC businesses declined by almost $140 million. The local unemployment rate is 5.1 percent as of August 2016, which is above the state and national levels of 3.3 percent and 4.9 percent, consecutively. Additionally, declining oil and gas investments in Rio Blanco County have hit our communities hard. We have lost revenue in our county and we need to replace it. The purpose of economic development is to implement a combination of strategies that will help existing business grow and attract new investors to establish their business in our communities. The result is new money in the community and new job opportunities for our residents. What community assets would attract investors and grow jobs? You want to match any investment with the community’s culture. Through the research process described above, we heard a few re-occurring themes from residents. The themes in Meeker were to preserve and stabilize the downtown area; recruit additional manufacturing employers; and provide resources to help locals and visitors connect with regional recreational opportunities. In the Rangely community the themes were to expand tourism by leveraging the network of ATV trails and the Rangely Rock Crawling Park; improve local retail opportunities; and use CNCC as a catalyst for business. Equally important is acknowledging weaknesses. In both Meeker and Rangely, housing is a weakness. The housing challenges range from a lack of available housing, housing that is outdated and requires significant remodeling, limited housing at entry-level prices, and the cost of construction to build a house being cost prohibitive. This creates a couple problems, such as less property owners and more renters, and difficulty recruiting workforce to our communities. The oil and gas sector accounts for over three-fourths of property taxes. However, the bust and boom cycles of the oil and gas sector creates instability in our communities; making it one of our biggest strengths, and one of our largest weaknesses. We need additional business throughout the county that can help stabilize our communities during the down turn in energy. Of course these are only a few highlights from the research. For the complete reports, visit www.rbc.us /248/Economic-Development. How was the research funded? The largest and most comprehensive research was completed by Better City in 2015. Seventy-five percent of this study was funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) through their Rural Economic Development Initiative grant program. The cost of the study was $75,850, which was paid for with $57,725 of grant funds, financial contributions from the Town of Meeker ($3,862), the Town of Rangely ($3,862) and Rio Blanco County ($10,400). What organizations were involved in the research? Throughout the process a variety of organizations and individual were interviewed. More than 38 residents of Meeker and 33 residents of Rangely provided input into their perception of the area, opportunities they see, and how to better the communities. Many organizations were represented including many special taxing districts, nonprofit organizations, business and industry partners, education providers, elected officials and potential business operators not located in Rio Blanco County. The outcome of the research is a plan of action that is holistic, addresses issues from several approaches and offers a more focused approach to investor recruitment. Within the plan there are approximately 30 initiatives that fall into four major categories: preparing a business friendly-environment, business retention, business attraction, and tourism promotion and development. The next article will discuss details of the business attraction strategy for Meeker. We hope this series of articles will be of value to readers, and community meetings will take place later this fall. Any questions can be directed to Katelin Cook, economic development coordinator for Rio Blanco County by phone at 970-878-9474; or Scott Meszaros, Town of Meeker administrator, by phone at 970-878-4960.