Economic assessment

Ford: Future of Routt County's economy is dependent upon number of variables

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— If Routt County's economic condition were a medical patient, the long-term prognosis would be good, though future health depends on a number of factors, Scott Ford said.

Ford was speaking to an audience of about 60 business leaders hosted by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association last week. Ford is a leader on the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council and runs the Small Business Development Center for Colorado Mountain College.

Ford is excited about the results of the new Community Indicators Report released this month by Yampa Valley Partners. The report, he said, has given new clarity to Routt County's economic condition. But the big unanswered question remains, "What's coming next?"

"This is our medical chart of this community," Ford said. "And I can tell you the patient is going to live."

Ford is particularly interested in the economic section of the report, but it is about more than business trends.

The report also gauges social trends like health, education and public safety. There is a section on environmental indicators and another on civic indicators, including community-planning efforts.

Audrey Danner, executive director of Yampa Valley Partners, said the indicators in the report measure what the community values most. Perhaps most importantly, they offer a basis for decision-making.

Ford and fellow members of the Economic Development Council have already reached some conclusions, he said.

Traditionally, economic development organizations measure their successes in terms of how many existing businesses they have lured to their community and how many jobs they have created.

"We aren't interested in creating any job at any cost," Ford said. "We are not in the attraction business. We're in the grow-your-own business. We're into nurturing entrepreneurs."

Ford is convinced the future of economic development in Routt County is in fostering niche manufacturing (he used Moots bicycles as an example), fostering niche retailing that looks outward to bigger markets and nurturing businesses that specialize in high-end business-to-business services.

As important as agriculture is to the community for social and environmental reasons, it's clear from the community indicators report that agriculture is no longer a significant factor in the local community, Ford said. He cited statistics in the Community Indicators report that show in the past 30 years, the average wage in agriculture and agriculture services has dropped from $16,000 to $2,500. During the same time frame, agriculture has slipped from accounting for 35 percent of personal income in Routt County to 1 percent. Construction has taken the place of agriculture, Ford said, but it could be said that Northwest Colorado's economy is overly dependent upon the building trades.

Ford has concluded Northwest Colorado is destined to operate under a commodity-based economy working to achieve high volume to offset narrow margins.

One of the keys to success will be building on the "Steamboat" brand nurtured by the Steamboat Ski Area.

"Due to the branding of the ski area, our products have good karma and the further you get from Steamboat, the greater the karma," he concluded.

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