Our View: A measured approach to our economy
December 26, 2010
As excited as we are about the idea of the Steamboat Springs City Council supporting policies that could stimulate the economy, we were glad to see the council rein in some of the ideas that have been floated.
Instead of addressing specific policies Tuesday, the council opted to ask Roger Good, who sits on economic development boards for the city and Routt County, to meet with council members at a retreat Jan. 13. A more in-depth, policy-driven discussion of economic development initiatives is planned for that retreat.
Some great options have been suggested, and we applaud the council for taking steps toward exploring them and treading carefully. Many will require careful thought.
For example, it has been suggested that the city provide micro loans and grants to entrepreneurs. According to information provided in the council agenda packet, the finance director is reviewing that suggestion, and criteria and procedures would need to be established.
This would put the city into almost a venture capitalist role. That could raise issues such as accusations of providing a competitive advantage to one business against another. Such a program also could raise the hackles of existing business owners, who started up and worked toward prosperity without an infusion of taxpayer dollars. The city should focus on creating the right environment to support businesses without becoming the funding provider.
The city has started examining fees and policies that might be cumbersome to businesses, and this is a smart move. At a meeting in fall, a business owner expressed concern about a burdensome fee. As a result, the planning director is reviewing the city peddler policy. The license fee is $25, but the cost to review and approve the license is $1,500. If that proves to be unreasonable, the city has a great opportunity to reconsider. Surely, there are other fees that could be re-evaluated.
As the city examines the possibilities, council members should look at how to attract businesses to Steamboat — and keep businesses in Steamboat — without throwing money at them. We like the idea of technology infrastructure upgrades that help a huge variety of existing and potentially new businesses, including the location-neutral population.
That investment would require funding, as would a tax-incentive program. A recent agreement to provide tax breaks for an expansion at ACZ Laboratories could lead to a model for such arrangements. City staff members suggested to the council that it ensures that any tax incentives lead to creation of professional-level jobs. That's crucial. Everything the council does to promote economic development should be done with an understanding of what the return on investment will be for the community.
City staff members have offered up suggestions with an understanding that there is "low hanging fruit" available. Those items include clarifying the noise ordinance for downtown businesses and providing late-night transportation from downtown to the base of Mount Werner. That transportation started running Dec. 16, and the city deserves kudos for taking quick action.
The city also has budgeted $35,000 to support the Quiznos Pro Challenge bike stage race in August, and it will manage finances for the host committee and provide in-kind support for the event. That's another cost-effective way to bolster the Steamboat economy.
Overall, we applaud city staff and council for putting the focus and energy on the economy. They appear to be taking a measured approach to the problem, rather than hitting the panic button, and we hope that's a recipe for successful and prudent policies.