Index gauges Routt County

Study puts figures to quality of living

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County rankings

- Civic livability

1. San Miguel

2. Pitkin

3. Chaffee

4. Routt

5. Eagle

6. Gunnison

7. Garfield

8. Grand

9. La Plata

10. Summit

- Economic livability

1. Chaffee

2. Gunnison

3. Summit

4. Garfield

5. Pitkin

6. Routt

7. Eagle

8. San Miguel

9. Grand

10. La Plata

- Environmental livability

1. San Miguel

2. La Plata

3. Chaffee

4. Grand

5. Garfield

6. Pitkin

7. Routt

8. Gunnison

9. Eagle

10. Summit

- Social livability

1. Routt

2. Pitkin

3. Gunnison

4. Garfield

5. San Miguel

6. La Plata

7. Grand

8. Eagle

9. Summit

10. Chaffee

Source: Routt County Economic Development Cooperative Livability Index

— At first blush, the factors measured by the Routt County Livability Index may seem random. Charitable giving falls under the same heading as voter turnout. Traffic congestion is a page away from water quality.

But there's a method here, project leaders pledge.

The livability index was about a year in the making as four groups analyzed factors in four categories: civic, economic, environmental and social livability. The teams used existing data and compared Routt with nine other Colorado counties.

The results include yards of data and provide a starting point for years of research.

"The entire idea behind this was to create measurements instead of anecdotes about quality of life," said Noreen Moore, business resource director at the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative, which spearheaded the study.

The cooperative solicited volunteers from across the county for each committee. The volunteers listed the key issues of their category, figured out what to measure and how, then found and quantified the data.

The groups weighted each issue in their category. The result was an overall livability ranking for Routt among the counties, as well as a ranking in each category. In those rankings, Routt was given a value of 1 to establish a baseline.

The idea was to create a study that can be replicated annually, Project Manager Roger Good said.

"The value starts in the second, third, fourth year, when you start looking at two- and three- and four-year trends," Good said.

The comparisons to other counties also are crucial, he said.

"A lot of the time, we only look at ourselves," Good said. "Part of the problem with that is that it's like looking at the baseball scores and seeing Rockies: 8."

If you don't know the other team's score, the information is meaningless, he said. The comparative data show where Routt stands and whether it's following trends of other communities. The comparison also reveals other communities that are facing issues similar to Routt's, Moore said. The county could learn from how others are handling such issues, she said.

The index also could help Routt County keep things in perspective, Moore added.

"We're at a place where we need to understand our economy," she said. "We need that sophistication; we need that next level of thinking. We've always waited for things to happen to us. If we continue to behave that way, we're going to be under a lot of stresses."

Springboards

The Routt County Economic Development Cooperative plans to repeat the study each year, Moore said. The questions addressed in the index must remain the same for at least five years. The group can add information as it becomes available, but it can't alter the overall ingredients of the index.

Although the data are useful for spotting concerns, the cooperative won't be the group highlighting them and taking action, Moore and Good said.

"These things can be springboards for people who are interested in these subject matters," Moore said.

Her role will be to spread the word by taking the document to the community and elected officials. The index came out in May, and Moore has already presented its findings to the Steamboat Springs City Council.

The county now has a product that's worth $500,000 but cost $10,000, she said. Twenty-five volunteers handled most of the work. Costs included the data-mining work of consultant Scott Ford, the hiring of a technical writer and printing.

The result, Good said, was an intensely local study that included elements hand-picked by members of the community.

"Most livability studies are done by consultants," he said. "This was all done by local people defining what's important, how to measure it and how to compare it. : A consultant might say X is more important than Y. We might say Y is more important than X."

He said he was impressed with the outcome.

"I am extraordinarily proud of the team," Good said. "I'm honored to have had the opportunity to work with a bunch of incredibly bright people. I'd be astounded if anyone were able to come up with something of this quality as we did with volunteers."

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