Regional officials debate economic strategies

Education, cellular and broadband improvements discussed at joint meeting

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What is 3G?

The term stands for the "third generation of telephone standards and technology for mobile networking." Through improved spectral efficiency, 3G networks allow a wider range of advanced cellular phone services such as wide-area wireless voice technology, video calls and broadband wireless data transmissions similar to the features one would find on an iPhone or other highly sophisticated mobile device.

— Faster Internet connections, the creation of technical education programs and increased availability of 3G cellular phone service will be explored as part of a regional economic strategic plan for the Yampa Valley.

Government and economic development officials from throughout Northwest Colorado gathered at a joint meeting of the Routt County Board of Commissioners and Steamboat Springs City Council on Monday to debate measurable goals to increase the region's economic diversity and wealth.

During the course of six meetings since September, a steering committee of regional officials identified the three goals debated Monday. Some officials questioned their feasibility or expressed disappointment that other goals such as affordable housing were omitted.

Roger Good, a member of the steering committee that developed the goals, led the conversation and stressed the need to keep the list of goals short, manageable and SMART - an acronym for "specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely." Timely was defined as within the next five years.

The goals as presented were that the region should work to create technical, cross-industry education programs at local colleges in energy sciences, new energy, entrepreneurial support, telecommunications, the Internet and other to-be-determined fields; provide 3G service coverage on 95 percent of all paved roads in Routt County, rated as such by at least one cellular provider; provide 3 megabyte-per-second download speeds and 1.5 megabyte-per-second upload speeds to 95 percent of county residents; and provide 10 megabyte-per-second download speeds and 5 megabyte-per-second upload speeds to 75 percent of county residents.

Good stressed that the specific numbers in the goals were arbitrary and presented solely to illustrate the need that goals should be specific and measurable. The actual order of magnitude increases that would be sought has not yet been defined.

"It's going to take us a number of months to get the numbers right," Good said.

Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush challenged the goals, noting that businesspeople she has spoken with have not expressed the need for these infrastructure improvements but do speak to the need for more affordable housing, child care and office space. Steering committee members noted that although that may be in the case in Steamboat Springs, other areas of the region have vastly inferior Internet and cellular networks.

Hayden Town Manager and steering committee member Russ Martin noted that commercial office space is "dirt cheap" in Hayden and child care costs are reasonable. He said the group tried to pick goals that would benefit the region as a whole, and he said that community plans and other studies from across the region identified the three goals debated Monday.

"When you look at the stack of documents, all these things come out," Martin said.

Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak agreed. She said that although she is a big proponent of affordable housing, she realized that the issue was too controversial, confusing and probably not attainable in a timely manner.

"I bit my tongue and didn't say anything about work force housing," Stahoviak said.

Steamboat Springs City Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, who works in the telecommunications industry, said enhancing 3G coverage would be a challenge. She said carriers already are struggling to meet their demands in New York and Los Angeles.

"There are tremendous barriers to overcome with this," she said. "There's just no way a ton of money is going to be spent out here in the square states."

Comments

Scott Ford 5 years, 1 month ago

One of the key challenges is to be able to see over the horizon to what is going to be needed 7 to 10 years from now. Focusing on infrastructure is how we prepare. As these goals get defined and in the process are kept "SMART" progress in any of these areas will help the economy diversify and expand with higher incomes. I would be curious how other view economic development at the local level.

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ybul 5 years, 1 month ago

Maybe, in the quest for job with higher incomes we fail to look at a dynamic economy with layered incomes. High incomes require, medium and low incomes to support them.

Maybe in a sustainable, the catch phrase of the day, economy, you need to be reaching out to retain more of the income circulating within the economy. As opposed to focusing on tourism, retirement lifestyles (might be disappearing rather quickly with the dow now down 50%) we should be looking at the whole of the economy, the needs of the population and how to serve those needs locally, if they can be met economically.

Maybe more (tourism, retirees) actually is less of what makes the community so desirable, maybe focusing on areas that would enhance the flavor/spice of the valley, would in the end bring in more/a better class of visitors (the ranching/ag/family aspects).

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 1 month ago

I'd put the priority on making it more possible for someone that grows up to have a chance at a high paying job here.

There is no shortage of high income people here, but most of them made their money elsewhere and are either retired or got a job that allowed them to chose where they work.

There are very few possible career paths for a local kid going off to college and returning to a good job that after advancement could become a high paying job.

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JLM 5 years, 1 month ago

It is heartening to see such a powerful and enlightened dialogue and to see it managed in such a businesslike manner. SMART indeed! Wow!

While I personally think all of these initiatives are great because they are my kind of things and would benefit me, I would conduct some focus groups w/ different cross sections of the community to test them and to draw out other ideas.

It strikes me that a good economic development plan entails futuristic, technology, low-tech and no tech initiatives all targeted for different time frames --- short term v long term v futuristic.

There are no longer any truly "sustainable" economies as the world is changing too fast. There are economies which sustain a continuing level of innovation. If innovation declines, then the economy stagnates and begins to kill itself --- Michigan and Detroit specifically.

Where once upon a time a person had 25 years of experience, then they had one year of experience 25 times and now they have one month of experience six times. And, it's only going to get faster.

Damn good start!

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ybul 5 years, 1 month ago

New Zealand is a very good example of a country having a very large sustainable economy. They have pioneered grass based agricultural systems, affording people to have good/high incomes while in the ag sector. They innovated by figuring out how to graze more effectively, in essence harvest more solar energy and turn it into protein. While at the same time sequestering carbon.

There are plenty of low tech solutions that can be had to help people lift themselves up.

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 1 month ago

I understand the needs of the region will not mirror Steamboat's needs. That may explain my surprise at 3G being on this list. I appreciate the work of this group. A short term (5 year) effort makes sense in this economic downturn.

But I'm also concerned with the narrow scope imposed by that 5 year timeframe. I agree with JLM's comment about also looking farther ahead. Will anyone be tasked with looking beyond 5 years?

Important long term economic parameters such as tourism, agriculture, water, energy extraction, transportation, sustainability and housing are hopefully on our leaders' radar somewhere.

Ybul makes a good point. Low tech work that reconnects us to our our Ag sector can be a win-win for our economy.

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Tim Scannell 5 years, 1 month ago

Does the City of Steamboat Springs have a strategic plan? I have lived in similar size cities that have successfully prepared and implemented 3 to 5 year plans. Just wondering. It seems like a good 2009 project that could get the community together to help identify strengths that can be focused on. The fact that there is a new city manager might make it a good time to consider a long term blueprint to help focus limited resources.

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housepoor 5 years, 1 month ago

I completely agree with you observation. I have a few friends with teenagecollege age children and in most cases the parents agree that their children will not be able to afford to live here.

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Scott Ford 5 years, 1 month ago

Scott - I have had the chance to work in an economic development capacity in both Steamboat Springs and Craig counties. I have also had the chance to work in and with the high schools in both districts. One of the striking differences is the ethic both communities have toward their high school aged youth. In Moffat county there is an unspoken expectation that the youth will grow-up in the community. They may leave but there is a belief that they will return. There are vocational programs at both the high school and community college that are focused with this goal. From power-plant technology to dental hygienist.

This ethic does not exist to the same degree in Steamboat Springs there is an underlying expectation that our kids will and need to leave the community and likely will never return.

I am not sure why there is such a different ethic. I think it has a lot to do with the parents who drive the respective school district's focus. I think this is due to the adult education differences in both counties. In Moffat the number of adults age 25+ with a BA/BS degree or better is under 15%. In Routt County that number is over 40%. (Community Indicators Report)

The focus at Steamboat Springs high school seems to be "Get ready for college Get Ready for College and get ready for college some more and BTW where do you want to go to college". At Moffat County High School "What do you want to do and what type of training do you need and that training might require some extra training the could include college."

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JLM 5 years, 1 month ago

Looks like education is the key to success and living in Routt County. Advice: go get a world class education! You can do it!

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 1 month ago

Scott Ford, The reason for the different expectations you observe is pretty obvious. The parents are simply expecting from their kids the life story of themselves.

In Steamboat so many of the parents grew up elsewhere and made career choices that allowed them to live here. Those career choices are not available in many fields and often required special circumstances in the parent's career. Thus, many SB parents know there is little likelihood of their kids having successful careers comparable to their careers and living in SB. I'll go a step further and suggest that many parents FEAR that their kids will want to stay here and will accept a crappy service job.

Outside of SB there are many parents that have deeper connections to the area that did better than their parents. And the new arrivals can see their kids working in better local jobs that themselves are working.

So anyway, what I'd like to see is more of those with the best jobs, often with a distant corporation, create local jobs for educated locals.

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