Commissioners discuss economics

Panel outlines the good, bad and risky in Routt County

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— When asked to assess Routt County's economic outlook, commissioners discussed the ups and downs of areas including the tourism industry, agriculture and the region's diverse population.

The county's Board of Commissioners held a work session Tuesday afternoon led by Noreen Moore, business resource director for the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative. They were asked to list and chat about the county's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Scott Ford and Roger Good, who worked on the county livability index, attended the session to add their perspectives.

Strengths included natural beauty, communities with distinct identities, artistic diversity, educational opportunities, land preservation and energy. The commissioners hammered on that last theme, lauding the employment opportunities at the coal mine and power plant in West Routt.

"The energy industry is the industry that creates livable wage jobs," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush spoke highly of the area's friendliness.

"We're a caring community," Mitsch Bush said. "People volunteer; people take care of each other."

Moore and her colleagues plan to have similar discussions with other government entities in the county. They'll take the information to the table next month as they look more at the livability index, a countywide assessment released several months ago.

The idea is to figure out how each group wants to proceed economically and how the entities view the future.

During the discussion, commissioners cited several ongoing issues as weaknesses or threats: lack of affordability, lack of child care, concerns about global warming, beetle kill, water issues, the seasonal nature of some jobs and the remoteness of the area.

"I sometimes think you can identify the hospitality industry as a weakness," Stahoviak said. "It can provide jobs that don't pay enough for you to live here."

Many consumer service industries fall under that umbrella, Moore noted, not just hospitality.

Commissioner Doug Monger brought up one of his crucial issues: agriculture.

"There is no sustainability of agriculture," Monger said, noting that his family has had to split up parcels of land and sell them. That division can have environmental impacts, Mitsch Bush said, such as disruption of migratory patterns and habitats.

Agriculture does provide opportunities, however, Monger said. Those in the industry could look at different kinds of crops - grasses, for example.

Ultimately, commissioners will have to address their priorities as a panel and as part of a larger economy. They ended by expressing concern, naturally, about money.

"In the past, we've had significant reserves," Mitsch Bush said. "For no matter what you want to do, we're going to be in those reserves. : That is a major, major threat, which will lead to another threat: declining infrastructure in Routt County."

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