Economic focus heightens in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Economic focus heightens in Steamboat

City explores financial incentives, job creation proposals in efforts to help businesses

Mike Lawrence

— A formalized, city-funded business incentive program will be among the ideas on the table Tuesday night, when Steamboat Springs staff and officials hold a wide-ranging discussion about economic development and job creation.

The discussion is part of continued efforts to find ways to boost Steamboat Springs' businesses — new and existing — amid high unemployment and recessionary sales tax revenues.

City staff, led by Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord and Finance Director Deb Hinsvark, have presented Steamboat Springs City Council with an extensive slate of short- and long-term economic development proposals and talking points. The proposals are planned for discussion near the end of Tuesday night's City Council meeting in Centennial Hall. Many of the suggestions stem from City Council's public economic dev­­­­­elopment forum Nov. 9 in Howelsen Lodge.

In addition to a formalized business incentive program, ideas include developing criteria for outright micro-loans or grants to boost startups and entrepreneurs; a clarified noise ordinance, for owners of nighttime-oriented businesses downtown; infrastructure improvements to help technology industries; continued promotion of bicycle-friendly initiatives and events; and more.

Read the full economic development package in a document posted online with this story at http://www.steamboatpilot.com.

DuBord said in preparing the economic development package, she spoke extensively with staff from the city of Boulder, which spends about $350,000 per year to support several businesses through sales or use tax rebates, permit fee reimbursements or other incentives.

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In October, the city allocated a potential expenditure of $40,000 for ACZ Laboratories, which is planning an expansion of its building on Steamboat's west side. ACZ would receive the money after receiving a certificate of occupancy for its expansion, as essentially a reimbursement of taxes ACZ would pay up front.

DuBord said ACZ expansion next year could create high-paying jobs that provide benefits for employees — potential criteria for a formalized incentive policy.

"Even though we didn't have a written policy, ACZ actually provided all those things," DuBord said. "A lot of what we saw in the situation with ACZ is probably something that council may want to discuss and maybe actually formalize it."

Councilwoman Meg Bentley, baking Christmas cookies at home Sunday, cited the importance of diversifying the city's economy beyond tourism industries and supported the idea of micro-loans for technology startups or location-neutral businesses.

"I would entertain a request from any startup or any small business that wants to grow and increase their payroll," Bentley said.

Jens Owen, of Storm Peak Innovations, an incubator for tech entrepreneurs, told City Council at the forum Nov. 9 that such a boost could be invaluable to his clients, who are taking the first steps toward getting their ideas off the ground but often lack startup capital.

"Anything to help bridge that financial gap would be welcome," Owen said.

The frustration at the Nov. 9 forum was palpable.

"I'm really, really, really worn out," said Michael Van Vliet, of Storm Mountain LLC and Storm Mountain Express, a local shuttle service. "I will never be able to retire at this point. … You're seeing anger in stores, you're seeing anger in retail."

Also that night, local builder David Josfan told City Council that the construction industry is "slowly, slowly dying here" — before giving an indication of just what, exactly, is at stake when City Council talks about the need to spur economic development.

"There's a lot of good people leaving Steamboat," Josfan said.

If you go

What: Meeting of the Steamboat Springs City Council

When: 5 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.

Contact: Call city offices at 970-879-2060 or visit http://steamboats… for more information.

Agenda highlights

5 p.m. Proclamation recognizing the Steamboat Springs School District and Superintendent Shalee Cunningham, for being accredited with distinction by the Colorado Department of Education; discussion of whether to adopt seasonal District of Wildlife closures at off-leash dog parks; resolutions supporting three recent grants from Great Outdoors Colorado, for Howelsen Hill improvements and an Emerald Mountain land purchase

7 p.m. Public comment; economic development discussion

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