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RBC — Even though the exact form or direction is still taking shape, a group of business people and community leaders is moving ahead with efforts to focus on creating an economic development strategy for the county.
“Nothing has been agreed on for sure, but we are working for now as the economic development committee,” said Michelle Hale, one of the organizers of the group, which started out in response to the results of a survey conducted on behalf of the county and a feeling by some of not being included in the process to develop a county master plan.
“If this community is going to survive, we must do things better, with better business practices from all areas, not just local business, but our county and town as well,” Hale said. “This means taking an honest look from all sides, including the community that somewhat feels left out.”
The group met for the third time April 28 at the Hugus Building in Meeker, and again on Monday.
“I think the long and short of this is truly coming out with an economic plan for the present and future of Rio Blanco County, as well as the towns,” said Peggy Rector, former county commissioner and Rangely mayor, who attended the April 28 meeting. “The two chambers have already discussed economic development, and that will continue. We need and should want to have our commissioners as well as elected town officials involved in this process.
“If I am reading this right, people want to have a say,” Rector continued. “We can have a say by these meetings with our commissioners and town representatives, as well as business, through the chambers. I would continue to promote, but instead of forming new groups, my suggestion would be to utilize what is already there. I believe we don’t reinvent the wheel when we have groups already formed. By doing this, additional people would be involved in the process. We need to not get on a witch hunt with this. A recall is not what this county needs or should want. It has to to be positive thinking.”
Peter Brixius, Rangely town manager, and Sharon Day, Meeker town administrator, were among the 35 or so people who turned out last week.
“I think the meeting was good,” Day said. “Communication is always valuable. I hope that the entire county can move forward together in an organized, team-approach manner. The (Meeker town) board has not met since the meeting, so I am unable to answer the question about the town’s involvement yet.”
Two representatives from the county — Kai Turner, county commissioner, and Jeff Madison, natural resources specialist and planning director — were on hand for the April 28 meeting, as well as Monday’s.
“It is a good opportunity for the county to be involved,” Turner said. “I will know more after the meeting with the group (this week).”
Said Madison, “My thought is that as the group goes forward they are going to be looking for a lot of background information for the assessment, and this will help facilitate communication between them, the county, the towns, and the other taxing entities,” Madison said. “This should be positive.
“I suspect their next step is to form a formal EDC and get the state to help them with the economic assessment as discussed that night,” Madison added. “From there it is anyone’s guess. At this point, I do not know what the county role will be. They have not approached us for anything as yet.”
The group’s next meeting will be 6:30 p.m. May 13 at Colorado Northwestern Community College offices in Meeker and in Rangely, and will be linked by videoconference.
“This group’s intention is to try to get information to the public that is accurate, and get a dialogue going between us and elected officials,” said Ginny Love, another one of the group’s organizers. “If we can take this and put people’s feet to the fire to make sure people are informed … then we’re gaining. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what caused it.”
Last week’s meeting included a presentation by Jeff Holowell of the Colorado Office of Economic Development.
“I believe the economic development meeting … can be a positive force for change and improvement in our county and hope that they will start to engage the various groups already working to this end,” said Brixius, Rangely town manager. “The presenter did a nice job of preparing an overview of areas that the EDC might contribute. It was pointed out in the discussion that the first job of economic development is to retain and grow our existing businesses, as we look at diversification.”
Sherry Long of EnCana sat in on last week’s meeting, along with Pat Maliszewski, also of EnCana.
“I understand the group was born out of some frustration, but I appreciate the effort to be positive and not do a lot of bashing,” Long said. “I love the idea about the economic development effort, I’m very impressed with the enthusiasm and the drive that so many of the Meeker and Rangely people have. I like to see when people come together, and sometimes it takes a crisis for that to happen.”