Steamboat Springs South Routt County has been selected to participate in the Colorado Community Asse-ssment Program, an economic study sponsored by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
For three days in August, five private sector business people and public officials will study the social, political, economic and environmental conditions within South Routt and how they impact economic development. The study will cover Oak Creek, Stagecoach, Phippsburg, Yampa and Toponas.
The study will include recommendations for South Routt to follow. Part of the program is making sure those recommendations are implemented.
South Routt has experienced economic success. When The Mugshot opened in downtown Oak Creek almost two years ago, the owner just wanted to run a coffee shop. But, the coffee shop turned out to be a catalyst for the community, providing a place for people to get together and form new friendships or rekindle old ones. The shop sparked life in the surrounding shopping district.
It met a need that nobody knew existed, said Noreen Moore, business resource director at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.
"What does it take to do business down there?" Moore asked. "Who is down there already that might be encouraged to create a business that can grow? That is really the best way to do it."
Oak Creek business owner David Bonfiglio said the study could help the South Routt area identify and address its economic issues.
He cited the example of a fly-fishing company looking to locate its business in a small town in the Rocky Mountains. The owners wanted a place with a storefront to sell its flies and room for manufacturing in the back. It would have been a perfect fit for Oak Creek's main street, Bonfiglio said, but neither knew about the other.
"That is the kind of business that we really need to help us," Bonfiglio said. "We are so dependent on the ski industry. It doesn't make sense to put all of our eggs in one basket. How do we go about finding businesses like that, that hire 10 to 15 employees, are environmentally friendly and good for the community?"
County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak proposed the economic study idea to South Routt after hearing about the success Rangely had with the program.
Stahoviak said some two dozen communities statewide asked for the assessment. Only a handful were chosen to participate in the program. One of the deciding factors, Stahoviak said, was having a community that could act on the recommendations.
"They wanted to be sure when they go into a community that the community is going to follow up with the implementation and it has the dedication and leadership to make that happen," Stahoviak said.
Moore, whose position is funded in part by the county and city, will help implement those recommendations. And Bonfiglio said it would also take a great deal of volunteers from the towns.
The community will participate in focus group discussions and interviews with the consulting team on Aug. 14. Anyone -- from shopper to business owner -- in the South Routt area is asked to sign up.
"The key to this is the people," Bonfiglio said. "This focus group is so important. We want to hear from anyone or anybody. The more people the better the discussion will be on how to proceed."
The team will tour the South Routt area Aug. 13 and will make their findings and recommendations public at a meeting on Aug. 15.
As jobs at the coal companies decline and the agricultural community increasingly struggles to make ends meet, Bonfiglio said more people from the southern end of the county are commuting to Steamboat for jobs. Bonfiglio, who is part of the South Routt Economic Development Council, would like to see more jobs available in South Routt and for those jobs to provide decent wages and benefits.
"If your child wants to come back here and live, we want them to have jobs available besides cleaning condos," he said.
Moore wants to see a place where future entrepreneurs can connect and where existing businesses and community members help out new businesses. When Moore started a pizza parlor in Oak Creek almost 20 years ago, she said they were given a boost from their landlords.
"It was like they wanted to see something like that in the community and were willing to take a chance to help us. And that is so important," she said.
Stahoviak said the recommendations might look at the recreational opportunities South Routt holds, how the communities can work together to build stronger economies or at current zoning for light industrial and commercial businesses.
Moore said infrastructure also would be important in the assessment.
Although the team will be in the area for just three days, the recommendations could take years to implement.
"It is very exciting and very scary," Bonfiglio said. "Having their input into the area is like throwing the gauntlet down. Now it is up to us, the people, business owners and governments, to pick it up and run with it."
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