Steamboat Springs Spurred by the potential loss of Triple Crown Sports, much discussion has been devoted in recent weeks to Northwest Colorado's need for a long-term regional economic strategy. But the picture of what such a strategy might look like remains nebulous.
A concrete idea supported by Steamboat Springs City Manager Alan Lanning is consolidating the region's economic development efforts. From the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association to the Yampa Valley Economic Development Cooperative, there are at least seven organizations currently promoting economic vitality in the region.
Asked recently what the key elements of a long-term economic strategy are, Lanning answered "accountability and vision." Lanning said it's hard to achieve the former when there are so many players. When the subject was broached at a recent Saturday-morning retreat of the Steamboat Springs City Council, Councilman Jon Quinn agreed.
"I think there are too many (economic development cooperatives) that we deal with," Quinn said.
Lanning said a consolidation of economic development efforts, with the installation of one executive director, proved successful when Lanning served as city manager in Brookings, S.D.
"At the end of the day, the executive director of that organization was responsible for what happened," Lanning said. "It worked."
The heads of at least two local organizations, however, disagree with the idea. Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said each of the existing bodies have well-defined scopes and constituencies.
"The (Routt County Economic Development Cooperative's) scope will never be the Chamber's scope," she said. "I'm not sure that it makes sense to combine them all."
Noreen Moore, business resource director for the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative - which is separate from the Yampa Valley cooperative, the Hayden Economic Development Cooperative and the South Routt Economic Development Council - agreed.
"Each of the economic development outfits are very different," she said.
Moore said fears that the groups are duplicating efforts are laughable. She said the groups communicate well and, since there is so much that can be done, they don't have any trouble staying off each other's toes.
"I could be five of me," Moore said.
Strong for now
Quinn also has floated the idea of instituting a city property tax, which he says would not be intended to increase anyone's tax burden, but rather to stabilize the city's sales-tax-based economy. At the May 10 council retreat, Lanning said a property tax ballot measure could be successful, if marketed correctly.
The development of a long-term regional economic strategy is a policy in the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan and was the main topic of discussion at last week's joint meeting of the City Council and the Routt County Board of County Commissioners.
"This has been in limbo for two years," County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. "How do we move forward in implementing this action item?"
Despite Stahoviak's urging, the officials assembled had trouble even deciding what constituted "the region" for a regional economic plan. Officials did see progress, however, in the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative's presentation of its Routt County Livability Index. The index tracks rates of change throughout time in civic, environmental, economic and social measures, against comparable counties. Two years ago, its development was identified as the first step to forming a long-term economic strategy.
Compared to 10 other counties, the index shows Routt County is at an acceptable level in terms of social livability but should keep an eye on indicators in the civic, economic and environmental categories.
However, Project Coordinator Roger Good said that since an index is designed to measure the change of comparable data sets throughout time, its true value won't be realized for a few years. Good compared the livability index to the Consumer Price Index, which he said started as a grassroots project among students in Michigan.
"Today, some 35 years later, national policy-makers make decisions off the index," Good told the council and commissioners.
Regardless of what the long-term strategy ends up looking like - if it is developed - Lanning said officials have a fair amount of time to figure it out. Although he would immediately cut $1 million from the city's budget if Triple Crown announces its departure, Lanning said the city otherwise has a good financial footing - for now.
"I think we're in pretty darn good shape right now," Lanning said. "For a while, we're OK, but it's being driven by the construction. Eventually that's going to slow down."