Legal hoops hurt growth

Residents speak out at South Routt economic study session

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Differing governmental procedures and policies throughout South Routt County hurt the area's ability to attract new businesses, according to some who attended an economic study session Thursday.

About 50 people gathered at the South Routt Community Center on Thursday afternoon to ask whether government procedures help, rather than hinder, economic growth in the area.

The meeting was one of four held as part of the South Routt County Community Economic Assessment, an effort to pinpoint ways South Routt's economy can grow, which is taking place this week.

"What I'm hearing is that this area is a very hard area to do business in," said Beth Fisher, an Oak Creek resident who owns a catering company. "If someone has to go through a bazillion steps ... it's going to deter business."

In an hour and a half of public comments and brainstorming, the four members of the assessment team heard from South Routt business owners, government officials and residents about how government processes, permits, regulations and incentives attract or discourage business.

Some audience members said the process required for starting a business in South Routt County was too long and was difficult and confusing because of regulations that are hard to understand and are not consistent from community to community.

Eric Bowman has operated two businesses in Steamboat Springs and said he is trying to start a computer manufacturing company in Oak Creek. It has taken him eight weeks to get to a point in the process that would have taken 10 days or less in Steamboat Springs, he said.

The chairman of the Oak Creek Planning Commission and former Oak Creek Mayor, Gerry Greenwood, said Oak Creek's land use code is different from those in other places, but has been put in place by the people.

"For certain types of businesses, it's cumbersome," Greenwood said. "But it is the process that was chosen by the people. It's going to take a groundswell of the people to change it."

Pattie Snidow, a field representative for the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade and the team assessor who facilitated the session, asked whether there were any consistencies between towns in Routt County.

She then said that it sounded as if there are "three different sets of hoops, three different sets of people to work with," in South Routt.

Those delays can deter businesses.

"Time is money. And I don't care how you look at it, the longer it takes, the greater the cost of the project," said Bea Westwater, a Stagecoach resident who has two businesses.

When the team asked audience members what type of business they would like to see in the area, responses included recreation, construction, medical, professional services and telecommuters.

The relation between Steamboat Springs and South Routt County also came up.

"Right now I would say Steamboat Springs is the engine that drives this county," Greenwood said. "The truth is, when people are moving in, they look to Steamboat."

The session on government processes was one of the best-attended sessions of the day. Other sessions covered agriculture as a viable industry in South Routt; education as it relates to work force development and training; and infrastructure.

After touring the area, listening to Thursday's sessions and working Thursday night, the assessment team will present ideas for how the region can grow economically in ways that its residents want at 9 a.m. today at the community center.

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