Public forum will feature discussion about improving Steamboat economy | SteamboatToday.com

Public forum will feature discussion about improving Steamboat economy

Mike Lawrence

— The Steamboat Springs City Council is taking a hands-on approach to stimulating the local economy. It's an approach that seems to mesh with the business strategy of Colorado's next governor.

In John Hickenlooper's first speech as governor-elect, the Democratic Denver mayor told a Colorado Springs crowd that the only way for Colorado to revive its ailing budget is to stimulate the state's business climate through a "bottom-up" process that starts at the local level.

The city of Steamboat Spr­­ings, also facing severe budget restrictions, is promoting a similar message and reaching out to its business community during an economic development open house tonight. The public forum, which begins at 5 p.m. in Olympian Hall, will feature a discussion about how the city can better support local businesses.

The forum follows the City Council's decision last month to allocate $40,000 as an incentive for the potential expansion of ACZ Laboratories on the city's west side. ACZ would receive the funds upon acquiring a certificate of occupancy for its potential expansion, as a reimbursement of tax dollars that would be paid up front.

City Council's approval of those funds was intended to spur job creation and economic growth. The approval opened some eyes across Steamboat.

"This ACZ thing is the first time they've really ever done anything," SmartWool President Mark Satkiewicz said Monday, referring to city efforts to stimulate local business growth. "There are some businesses, including SmartWool, that would love some additional help."

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Some help has been there in the past.

Steamboat's former industrial enterprise zone, for example, expired at the end of 2009. It was in place for about 20 years on Steamboat's west side. More than 240 businesses with industrial enterprise zone licenses, as of late 2009, were exempt from paying city sales and use taxes on the purchase or sale of parts, equipment, machinery and tools.

Steve Hofman, a Steamboat resident who served as an assistant secretary of labor under President George H.W. Bush and is a former director of research and policy for the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives, said the enterprise zone was a valuable policy.

"Clearly, things like enterprise zones, free trade zones, various development-related incentives need to be part of a communitywide strategy," Hofman said, adding that such measures can create a more friendly environment for investors.

Hofman said that theoretically, if he were hired to do due diligence on locating a business facility in Steamboat, at the moment, he "would find it very difficult to recommend (Steamboat), given … the many hurdles that come up time and time again."

Hofman discussed Steam­boat's business climate earlier in fall in a meeting with City Manager Jon Roberts and City Council members Meg Bentley and Cari Hermacinski.

Roberts said that meeting helped spur tonight's event, which he said is part of the city's continuing efforts "to meet with the business community, find out what kind of challenges they're having … (and) explore the possibility of a partnership between government and the business community."

Roberts said rather than a primary emphasis on attracting new businesses — a strategy he said the city has employed in recent years — such a partnership instead could focus on supporting the city's current businesses and increasing tourism.

City Councilman Walter Mag­­ill contended that the city currently cannot afford a significant amount of financial incentives.

Seven layoffs announced in City Hall last month capped a two-year work force reduction that has included hiring freezes, furloughs and pay reductions for city staff. The city is facing its third consecutive year of declining revenues.

Magill voted against the $40,000 incentive for ACZ, saying that the amount was too large and the approval did not establish criteria for future allocations.

"The city can put their hand out to shake … but the city can't really put their hand out with a bunch of cash in it," Magill said.

Roberts acknowledged the struggling state of city finances.

"Certainly, budgetary issues have to be a consideration," Roberts said. "But then, also, there's the argument that there's a return on those types of dollars invested."

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