Report: Rangely also has series of ups and downs

RANGELY I A small group of local government officials and citizens met July 14 with the staff of Better City to learn their discoveries and recommendations for the Rangely part of the Rio Blanco County Economic Development Strategy, Phase I—Community Assessment.
The county and towns of Meeker and Rangely contracted Better City to conduct a survey and make suggestions to improve the economic climate of the area. While several ideas were discussed for improving the economy of Rangely, the majority of the plans centered around growth of programs at Colorado Northwestern Community College.
The contract with Better City comes at a price tag of $75,450. To help pay the bill the county received a $57,725 DOLA grant. The county picked up $10,000 and the two towns split the remaining $7,725 to fund the project.

The presentation began with a discussion of assets and liabilities found in the Rangely community.
Better City reported the town’s greatest assets are the energy resources in the area. They cite the oil field and the Deserado Coal mine as important industries within Rangely. Other assets included CNCC and the airport. Rangely District Hospital is listed as an asset and liability.
While Better City found it to be an impressive facility, they were concerned that the bond had soured the public and that the hospital has “more capacity and more capabilities than are warranted in the small rural community.” The report details the CT scanner in the hospital, which, according to Better City, is one of the nicest on the Western Slope. However the hospital is not authorized to perform many of the procedures that would be diagnosed with the machine.
Other liabilities listed in the report include a lack of stable hotels, as four of the hotels are currently for sale, and the lack of available broadband. However with the county currently undergoing a major broadband expansion project, elected officials reassured participants that this liability will soon be remedied.
From the list of assets and liabilities Better City developed a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the community. The largest strength identified was CNCC. Other strengths include the Park and Recreation District and a low cost of living, specifically low electricity rates, which are approximately 50 percent lower than state and national averages.
Rangely’s listed weaknesses include its small population size, dependence on oil and gas and distance from a large population base. The report also raises concern that the majority of the CNCC students are from the surrounding areas and travel home on the weekends. Another weakness listed is the Rangely School District which has experienced lower testing scores than the state and national averages over the last few years.
The opportunities found in Rangely are closely tied to the previously listed assets and focus mainly on growth of the CNCC aviation program and county airport as well as the potential for attracting large electricity users to the region.
The threats to Rangely are concentrated on factors outside the local citizen’s ability to impact such as global price fluctuations in the oil and gas market and competition from other community colleges.
From this analysis, Better City put together seven distinct recommendations they believe have the potential to improve the economic state of Rangely.
The first recommendation is to increase recruitment of international students, specifically from the Asia Pacific region, to the aviation program. Better City believes that there is significant demand for aviation technology education by students from several Asian nations. Because these students would be unable to go home on the weekends, Better City believes they would become more economically integrated into the community.
Better City acknowledged that this would require a significant investment from CNCC. However they claim that should CNCC be able to recruit just one-twentieth of a percent of the existing Asia Pacific community college market it would increase enrollment by 24 students, which would double their flight program and increase Rangely enrollment by 9 percent.
Recommendation No. 2 for Rangely is an Asian Language Center of Excellence. This program would also rely on CNCC’s cooperation and leadership. Before students from overseas can begin aviation training, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that they pass an English proficiency test. Better City believes CNCC could create a program offering this service to international students. Better City envisions the center acting as a type of “brokerage” connecting U.S. and Asian companies that would like to work together but need translation services.
Recommendation No. 3 is a “downtown redevelopment” project. Better City believes the foot traffic in the “downtown area” needs a big boost, which could be accomplished by increased nightlife, recreation and retail.
According to the report, this could be accomplished by increasing medium to high density housing within the “downtown” area. One way they think this can be achieved is by partnering with CNCC to encourage students to seek housing in the area.
With some improvement to the OHV and bike trail systems, Better City, believes that students would be inclined to rent OHV’s for transportation use from the “downtown area” to campus.
Another recommendation linked to CNCC is the development of an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul program. Better City believes that the current aviation program could be expanded to offer these services to private individuals or companies in need of annual maintenance or work on their airplanes.
They also trust that there are numerous individuals within the community who are “underemployed skilled workers in the local economy with welding and mechanical experience” that could provide some of the labor force.
Another idea presented in the report relies on Rangely’s low electricity rates. These exceptionally low rates put Rangely in a strong position to attract a data center to the community. While it is estimated that this type of business would only bring an additional five to seven jobs, Better City believes there would be numerous indirect jobs created to serve the center and it’s employees.This suggestion is not viable until the county-wide broadband project is complete.
The last suggestion made was the idea of increasing outdoor recreation opportunities. While Better City did not go into specifics about what types of opportunities exist in Rangely, they did suggest that it could be packaged as a “Moab for families, with less crowding.”
There were no specific recreational examples listed in the report, however it does suggest third-party audits and a “significant PR push coordinated with one of the major Rock Crawling Park activities.”
The county plans to meet with local business owners to discuss results and hear ideas this fall. By then, they hope that Phase II – Economic Assessment, Phase III – Market Assessment and Final Recommendations and Strategy will be available.