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South Routt economic development board gets new faces, energy

— On Feb. 15, John Grout left a South Routt Economic Development Council meeting and immediately set up Facebook and Google e-mail accounts for the organization.

It was a small step, but one in the right direction for the council, which elected Grout its new president at the meeting.

But it's not enough to have new ideas.

Grout, who has owned The Oak Restaurant in downtown Oak Creek for two years, said it's the unity, enthusiasm and participation in the area's economic development that will help the council move forward.

"My main priority is unity in the community," he said. "Us working together is going to get us a lot further. We're all competing for the same dollar, but it doesn't mean we have to be enemies.

"That's the only thing that's going to hold us back. It's tough times for everybody. We can't just sit back and let things stay status quo."

At its February meeting, the council elected four new officers to replace the three stepping down and added the vice president position. Grout was elected president, Kimi Lehman as vice president, Jack Lewis as secretary and Julie Hoff as treasurer.

David Bonfiglio will stay on as an advisory member of the board.

The new officers hope to work with existing EDC members to renew energy in the organization and push forward in supporting and developing South Routt as a business community.

Redefining the E

Previously, Grout said, the main purpose of the council was the Taste of South Routt festival each summer. But Grout said the group hopes to redefine the Economic Development Council and remind people that it's really about the "E": economy.

"It's tough times, and it's calling for tough measures," Grout said. "With the people we have on the board now, we have a lot of new ideas. It's a matter of getting everyone interested in what we can do."

Former council president Ken Montgomery, owner of Montgomery's General Merchandise in Yampa, said his biggest challenge as board president was garnering participation.

"We were just having a hard time getting any participation from anyone to do anything. I don't know if it's the economy or if people just didn't want to get involved."

But the 62-year South Routt resident said as a member of the council, he will help out in any way possible going forward.

"It's just if people will get together and work and do it, it's not that difficult," Montgomery said. "It's just keeping going and not getting discouraged."

Fresh ideas

The immediate future for the new board will include a focus on the council's website, which the board members think should represent South Routt as a positive place for business and family. Updating the business directory and other resources for visitors is also a priority.

Grout said promoting recreational opportunities is another important focus of the website, which he said would bring more people to the area in general.

"More people coming into the county is going to mean more business," he said. "And the EDC website should be the place where people want to start."

Hoff, the newly elected treasurer who has been chairwoman of Taste of South Routt for several years, said she took over the event because it was in danger of becoming defunct. The council found itself in the same position, with board members stepping down and no one to take their place.

She said it's a positive step that people want to be involved.

"I think it's a good board. It's nice to have some new energy," Hoff said. "The previous members really had great ideas and started heading in directions that it will be nice for the new board to build on."

She said focuses of the board would include providing more tangible resources to local businesses, like advertising and educational opportunities, and promoting the sharing of ideas among members. Also, a renewed energy and participation in Taste of South Routt could be an asset to the promotional focus of the council.

But she and other residents know the economic downturn hasn't been easy on Oak Creek. Many restaurants have opened and closed. Construction business slowed along with the housing market, and unemployment remains high.

"I think times are tough everywhere, and people in Oak Creek really do worry about it," she said. "But I think that's one of the benefits of living in this community is that everyone supports everyone.

"We're planning on jumping right in."

And Grout agrees that now is the time to take the dive.

"We're really excited because we just want to do something," he said. "We don't want to sit back and wait for people to come here. We can be proactive and go out there and look for them on as many different avenues as we can take to get there."

— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or e-mail ninglis@SteamboatToday.com