Craig City Council reconsiders business incentives | SteamboatToday.com

Craig City Council reconsiders business incentives

Collin Smith

The Craig City Council has changed its mind about government incentives for private industry.

At their Tuesday meeting, councilors said that although they once thought government incentives were unfair, they now think incentives to draw in well-paying jobs are good for the community.

“Just like everything else in my life, I’ve learned as I went along, gee, maybe I’m wrong,” said Councilor Bill Johnston, who described himself as a “staunch” opponent of government incentives for private industry.

But, Craig has an opportunity now that it hasn’t before, he added.

His and other statements from councilors came after a presentation by Darcy Trask, Craig/Moffat Economic Development director. She told the council that an Austrian home building company is seeking to build a plant in Colorado and that Craig is one of the places under consideration.

Trask requested the council consider leasing a portion of the 17 acres it owns on First Street for as little as $1 a year, as well as possibly providing other services, such as site development, for free. Private investors would be asked to fund a new building for the company.

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The manufacturing business – its name has been withheld for confidentiality – estimates it would hire 50 people its first year, and as many as 150 by its third. Wages would range from $50,000 for assembly workers to $300,000 for senior management.

Mayor Don Jones said he has wanted EDP to find an opportunity like this for some time, and other councilors agreed.

“That’s a mini-coal mine, a mini-power plant,” Jones said. “That’s the best thing for the whole community.”

The crux of the deal, however, is that the company expects some help, Trask said, and several other communities across the state are willing to offer that. Craig essentially is in a competition, and it’s up to the community and its elected officials to decide what’s best for the area.

Incentives will be practically necessary to lure this business or other primary job employers, said Trask and other EDP members. The city can place requirements on any deal it makes that would keep the business in Craig and require it to hold a certain number of employees or face penalties.

Trask also cautioned incentives would put Craig in the game but that they won’t guarantee results.

Still, Johnston said, it might be time for the city to fully embrace economic development, and not remain a “dabbler.”

“I think we are about to reach a crossroads here,” he said. “I think it’s finally time to actually discuss incentives.”

EDP board president Scott Cook addressed concerns that local businesses would see the process as unfair because they did not get government help.

“A rising tide raises all ships,” he said. “If we get some more primary jobs in here, it will help all those businesses.”

Primary businesses are defined as those that bring outside money into the community, as opposed to a restaurant, for example, which circulates money within a community. A primary job business would generate more tax revenue as well as provide jobs that offer disposable income to be spent at local businesses, Trask said.

Councilor Joe Herod said he has seen change in recent years, and he thinks the city is ready for growth.

“Six years ago, I’d have sat here with six of you guys and said it’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair,” he said. “In the last two years, this city has done some things – with the new hospital and the new school – that I’d never have thought the whole community would jump on.

“I’m for it.”

The city does not need voter approval to sell or lease the land, as the community allowed it to put the land asset in the general fund when it approved money for the Public Safety Center.

The council did not vote on what it would do, but it did agree to begin making commitments as soon as its next meeting, Nov. 25.

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

County perspective

While the city is rethinking its assumptions, Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said he also is open to considering opportunities that would benefit the community, though he previously had opposed government incentives.

As for the particular business presented to the Craig City Council, Gray said he wanted to learn more about what the company would bring to Moffat County before he commented.

In general, though, he said he would support some incentives for a well-paying business that doesn’t compete with existing companies. However, he would be “very skeptical” about offering county tax dollars.