Regional economics explored

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Location-neutral businesses and part-time residents are emerging economic drivers in Routt County. At the same time, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties struggle with tough oil and gas drilling issues.

Economic influences may differ among counties, but each county must balance its sense of community with the background of a changing economy.

Business and community leaders will explore economic opportunities and challenges facing communities throughout the region in a series of seminars and workshops to be held at the Northwestern Colorado Rural Issues Forum.

The free event will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at Northwestern Community College in Rangely.

"Our counties are so different from each other -- I think it's going to be a real interesting dialog," said Scott Ford of the Small Business Resource Center at Colorado Mountain College.

Sponsors are the city of Steamboat Springs, Yampa Valley Partners, Colorado Mountain College and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Various workshops will examine how communities can retain jobs, conduct successful marketing campaigns and use community colleges to further economic goals.

Ford and Yampa Valley Partners Executive Director Audrey Danner will give participants a sense of the region's economic fabric using information from the Community Indicators Project, a report about social, economic and other trends in Routt and Moffat counties published annually by Yampa Valley Partners.

How industries contribute to local and regional economies is one of the most important considerations. If an economy is diverse, a significant trend in one industry won't affect an entire region, Ford said.

However, diverse economies also present challenges, particularly to an area's sense of community. In Routt County, for example, telecommunication and transportation advances are attracting more "lone eagles" -- entrepreneurs with businesses not dependent on specific locations.

The trend provides a big opportunity for economic growth, but only if the community can meet demands of location-neutral businesses.

But there is another, less obvious challenge: How to connect the entrepreneurs, who can easily isolate themselves, to the community, Ford said.

"They are attracted to our amenities, but what holds them here ... is how they plug into our community," he said.

Identifying similar and different influences and challenges throughout the region is important in predicting economic changes while honoring what is important in communities, Ford said.

Community and business leaders, elected officials and residents are invited to attend the forum, which will include a continental breakfast and lunch.

Call (303) 866-4918.

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