Scott L. Ford: Focus on achieving desired outcome

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— There is renewed interest in focusing city and county government resources (time and money) on improving the condition of the local economy through targeted economic development efforts. This focus is welcomed. The challenge in the near-term becomes what should be done and how to assess whether the efforts will be effective.

The Dec. 8 editorial in the Steamboat Today (“City, county should focus on jobs”) appealed to city and county public officials to focus on the local economy. This appeal was in anticipation of an update to the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan. Before there is a rush into “trying stuff” in the name of economic development, we first need to take the time to understand where the local economy is and where we want it to go. By doing this first, we can hopefully avoid the “ready-fire-aim” scenario that often accompanies things done in the name of economic development.

There is a shared countywide vision to have a local economy that is diverse and vibrant. This sentiment is echoed in the community plan, Vision 2030 and the mission statement of the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council, and it is posted in City Council chambers. The challenge is defining what constitutes diverse and vibrant. We also need to go beyond the definition to clearly identify how vibrancy and diversity are going to be routinely and objectively measured. Focusing on how success is measured shifts the spotlight from specific actions to targeted outcomes.

In conjunction with the Routt County Livability Index, the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative has defined economic diversity and vibrancy in a way that can be objectively and routinely measured. This helps keep the intention of any effort done in the name of economic development clearly focused on whether it can reasonably be expected to contribute to a desired outcome.

The Economic Development Co­­operative has developed three measurements of economic diversity and vibrancy. The first two measure the diversification of sources of personal income and employment. In Routt County, when the top three private industry sectors are the sources of 45 percent or less of employment and personal income, diversity has been achieved or is being maintained. The third measurement uses per capita income to assess vibrancy. Economic vibrancy is being achieved in Routt County if per capita income is increasing at a rate faster than inflation.

All three measurements can be easily updated annually using county-level data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, whose source data comes from income tax filings of Routt County residents. This data is free for the asking.

Having this type of well-defined outcome measurement provides local government officials a metric to determine if a specific economic development action moves the local economy toward or away from the desired outcome.

For example, it is reasonable to expect that the $40,000 in tax incentives being discussed by City Council to support an expansion at ACZ Laboratories likely will increase diversity and vibrancy? This is because ACZ Laboratories is not in the top three industry sectors and it is proposing paying wages/salaries that are above the Routt County median income. Will the impact of this effort be huge? No, but it moves the local economy in the right direction of diversity and vibrancy, even if only incrementally. Therefore it meets the criteria of an economic development action that moves toward the desired outcome.

I would encourage county and city officials to use the measurement criteria developed by the Economic Development Cooperative when assessing any proposed action being done in the name of economic development. There is an old adage, “Measure twice and cut once.” This is practical advice for carpet layers, tailors and carpenters. It is practical advice for government officials, as well, when it comes to assessing their efforts done in the name of economic development. The Economic Development Cooperative has developed a useful tape measure for this very purpose.

Ford is the director of the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative.

Comments

Ken Reed 3 years, 11 months ago

Hi Scott,

Interesting and thoughtful article. I also like the adage, "what gets measured gets improved." So the goal is to improve Steamboat's economic diversity and vibrancy. To do this, diversity of employment sources, the diversity of personal income and the increase of per capita income need to be measured. One of these, as you stated, increase in per capita income, can be measured based on the inflation rate. But who determines what is desired for diversity of employment/personal income? Are there stated targets (percentages) for these?

I'm no expert on this by any means, but it seems like they are all tightly coupled. In other words, to increase per capita income, you have to encourage the type of employment/employers that pay higher wages. Is this correct? Would it be safe to say that if you had to choose between two companies that you wanted to subsidize to encourage them to move to Steamboat and one was a large retailer and the other was a large engineering firm (higher employee wages), the engineering firm would be chosen because it fits within the overall vision.

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ybul 3 years, 11 months ago

I would also comment that diversity for the sake of diversity is not the holy grail. Sometimes it is necessary for one to build upon the strengths of others in the same field to achieve the stated goals.

What you are really trying to achieve is a broad economic base in which people's incomes can support them within the community. They may not choose to live here and prefer Craig, Hayden or Oak Creek. However, the goal should be similar to the above statement or that we live in a region in which the need for assistance is declining (as their incomes are increasing), with a broad economic base that will sustain us even in the most difficult economic climates.

Another point I was going to write in the other thread going on the topic dealt with the health care hot button. One should also in the vision 2200 statement write is that our communities health is improving, with increased availability to rural areas.

Even though that hospital does drive in income from other parts of our region, those parts add to the potential vibrancy of this area. Money spent on Sick (health) care can not be used to invest in wealth generating opportunities.

Historically the deer and elk would migrate west to browns park and Utah, they see no boundaries. We need to work as a region to see assets and put them to use in ways that build upon other assets so that we can figure out how we can make one plus one equal three. Kramer has done a nice job of this with the regions agritourism maps.

Here is an idea for you Scott Ford, leadership Steamboat, or the Chamber. Put forth a database to catalog resources in the valley, figure out how to develop a business development low interest loan program (so the money comes back if the business is successful) to help get some ideas off the ground. Kind of like the micro loan program in other parts of the world.

Heck look at the PDR revenues, could those be utilized to help bring about a more vibrant ag sector in which the farmers/ranchers no longer need subsidy (moving away from a community in which assistance is needed) to maintain the ranch/farmland in the area.

Get out of the box (your indusrty), look around the room (Steamboat Springs or whereever) and then step outside that room you are in and see what other opportunities exist outside your comfort zone and more so thought patterns.

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kathy foos 3 years, 11 months ago

Hopefuuly there will be planet friendly opportunitys for businesses,as it would catch alot of support .The Recycling industry is not very advanced in this county.If the ski industry prefers visa workers ,than develop work for the locals and dont allow visa workers to have the jobs.It doesnt matter how many jobs you create ,if the person in charge of hiring ,doesn't hire locals,this problem will only grow, Our childern getting out of highschool need opportunitys (trade school?) There are many young people looking for work for so long,...they must leave the area to get a job.This must stop,these kids need a chance,they dont want to live off mom and dad,but there is no work,what a way to start out in life. Alternative energy industry developement is vital in my thinking.Get the kids involved they have fresh ideas ,and everyone wants to make the planet better,they just dont know how to do it in their everyday lives.

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