Guest Editorial: Building a prosperous Rio Blanco County, Part II ~ Attracting businesses and employers

Katelin Cook
Katelin Cook
RBC I Attracting new business to a community requires a methodical approach. The possibility of an outside business relocating to Rio Blanco County “out of the blue” isn’t a likely reality. A more likely situation is a community identifying existing markets that show the greatest growth potential and systematically reaching out to those business owners to start conversations. This is exactly what is happening with economic development efforts in Rio Blanco County.

In order for a business to do well in a community, there is a combination of components that must align. First, the market must exist or be easily grown. The business must complement the community’s culture; have access to a skilled workforce; quality, affordable housing for employees; and elected leaders must have negotiating tools “at the ready,” such as tax incentives, negotiable development fees, funding assistance and streamlined regulatory processes.
Outdoor recreation has the potential to thrive in eastern Rio Blanco County. White River National Forest and the Flat Tops Wilderness is the perfect location for outdoor enthusiasts and related businesses. Two primary initiatives identified to attract outdoor recreation to Meeker include development of the Outdoor Center for Adventure and recruiting shooting sports businesses.
The Outdoor Center for Adventure has the potential to position Meeker as an even larger premier destination for outdoor adventures, including ATV/OHV riding, fishing, hunting, hiking, wildlife watching, horseback riding, backpacking, etc. This will create foot traffic around Meeker which is paramount for downtown redevelopment efforts, such as the Main Street movement being led by the Meeker Chamber of Commerce. This will also create opportunity for existing businesses to grow and new businesses to call Meeker “home.”
On the manufacturing front, the current existence of bowstring manufacturers offers synergy with other shooting sports manufacturing, such as manufacturing bow-limbs, archery sights and protective gear, specialty rifles, and new products being developed, establishing Meeker as a location for a successful Shooting Sport Cluster. Many businesses can take advantage of the Outdoor Center for research and development efforts, utilizing broadband service and new technology offerings in this growing industry.
Workforce is available to support the initiatives mentioned above. Approximately 50 percent of the county’s eligible labor force is employed; 23 percent of county residents have a bachelor’s degree or greater; 34 percent have some college education. Additionally, many residents have training and certifications specific to their trade. This lends well to manufacturing outdoor products.
All of these initiatives fit within the culture and assets of Meeker. But that is not enough; having available housing for current and future employees is required. The lack of quality, affordable, move-in ready housing was a major concern voiced by stakeholders. Therefore, a recommended strategy is to recruit developers to invest in town-home or patio-home projects. These homes should be modern, affordable and ranging in price from $140,000 to $160,000.
Government policies and practices play an important role in attracting businesses. Updating zoning and design standards, streamlining regulatory processes and creating a “business friendly” environment are necessary for recruitment. Having negotiating tools, such as the existing local business grants and tax incentives will attract potential business investors. The Town of Meeker is researching the formation of an urban renewal authority in order to take advantage of tax increment financing.
Although these are not the only components, you can begin to see that in order to attract investors to our communities, we need to seek out industries that fit our rural culture, match the skills of our available workforce, prepare the housing market and have financial negotiation tools available.
This is the second article in our economic development series. An article next week will focus on business retention. Questions can be directed to Katelin Cook, economic development coordinator for Rio Blanco County by phone at 970-878-9474; or Scott Meszaros, manager, Town of Meeker by phone at 970-878-4960.