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Our View: City on right track with talks with businesses

Discussion was a good first step in figuring out how to bolster the local economy

— The Steamboat Springs economy has faced its share of challenges in the past two years, and, to employ a couple of common recession-time expressions, there probably isn't a silver bullet to turn things around or a crystal ball to determine when a turnaround might begin. But the Steamboat Springs City Council appears willing to do its part to improve the situation for city businesses.

The council hosted a forum Tuesday so the community could discuss what the city can do to help businesses survive. Ideas offered included micro loans; greater support for growing technology industries; a short-term moratorium on city fees related to new construction; a re-examination of city noise ordinances, especially in relation to downtown restaurants and bars; more late-night transportation options; increased partnerships with Colorado Mountain College and Yampa Valley Medical Center.

It's encouraging to see the council stepping up to work with the private sector to make it easier to do business in Steamboat. The community was eager to participate in the conversation — more than 60 people showed up at Howelsen Lodge to chime in.

One crucial element of the conversation should be diversification. According to the 2009-10 Com­­munity Indicators Project by Yampa Valley Partners, construction, accommodations, food service, real estate and leasing accounted for 42 percent of jobs in 2006. Much of that construction and real estate work has gone away or slowed to a trickle, and that underscores the need to diversify and identify other employment sectors to drive our economy.

Local observers of the economy have noted for years that location-neutral businesses and employees are a key part of this diversification. Many people who come to Routt County do so for the lifestyle it offers, and high-speed Internet and stable communications networks make this possible. But not everyone can be location neutral. As we examine the Northwest Colorado mining industry and other large local businesses, it's important to remember that those might not be around forever.

What other opportunities do we have?

CMC and YVMC, both of which came up at the forum, provide opportunities for an economic boost. CMC wants to expand here, and any growth would mean construction work as well as campus jobs.

The City Council has acknowledged the importance of working with the campus, and we hope that cooperative attitude is borne out through policy.

Additionally, the health care industry typically is a stable provider of jobs, and the city ought to take advantage of growth opportunities with YVMC and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. The city already has worked with ACZ Laboratories to provide a $40,000 tax incentive for its planned expansion, which is a positive step that we hope results in a real return on investment.

But we can't forget the smaller businesses, either. As the Community Indicators Project noted, there were about 7,500 business establishments in Northwest Colorado in 2006. Of those, the report states, "90 percent employ five people or less including the owner. Businesses that employ 50 or more people account for less than 1 percent" in Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties.

All of this only is part of the discussion. We encourage the City Council to continue the conversation and be receptive to ideas, as it has been so far. We also encourage the council to pick a couple of priorities to focus on as it addresses economic development.

As the city moves forward, it's crucial to look at the long term. Steve Hofman hit the nail on the head with his comment Tuesday: "You really need to look at this as a 10-year project, and it has to start now."