Diversifying the economy
By Mark Reaman
A request for funding from the ICELab at Western State Colorado University received a relatively lukewarm response from the Crested Butte Town Council, but the board members were willing to consider the request during the town grant cycle.
ICELab director Delaney Keating presented the council with an overview of the organization’s accomplishments after a year of operation and its upcoming goals at the April 16 council meeting.
Basically the idea is that the ICELab, in conjunction with the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association and the One Valley Prosperity Project (OVPP), wants to be the economic development arm of the county. Keating said that meant supporting existing business in the valley and attracting new business to the area. One goal—the 5-10-7 project—is to lure five $10 million companies to relocate here in the next seven years. Such companies would conceivably pay higher wages on average, in the neighborhood of $70,000.
Under the organization’s goals, the ICELab hopes to implement a $200,000 plan to shore up business in the region. That would involve business support and expansion efforts, marketing, research and development efforts, and exploring other avenues to diversify the economy. The hope is to obtain a state grant and get financial support from the local government entities as well.
Keating said depending on the size of the state grant, the request to each municipality would be between $11,000 and $21,000.
“I’ve been here 41 years and watched economic development efforts that took public money and resulted in nothing. How are you different?” asked Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt. “What about the housing issue we are all dealing with currently? Bringing in more jobs exacerbates that, doesn’t it? If you bring in people making $70,000 a year, they end up competing with the people here now working as waiters and lift ops for housing. It would seem to make it more and more difficult for housing.”
Keating said attracting new business was one segment of the plan. “Our efforts are focused on growing business that is here,” she said. “I want our people to have those high-paying jobs. What is important is to take control of the future and what is coming this way.”
“A diversified economy is important,” added Julie Feier of Western State Colorado University. “Having a dynamic and diversified economy is a benefit.”
“The 5-10-7 project jumped out at me and the implication that housing here is inexpensive,” said Schmidt. “Maybe compared to Aspen, but it is hard right now.”
“That’s the TA’s approach and we are still relatively low-end in terms of housing costs for ski towns,” said Keating. “It is an attractor factor.”
“We all agree there are challenges,” said Feier.
“It goes to what is sustainable,” said Schmidt. “Do we need to grow? Can you lift everyone up to a livable wage? That is what’s disappointed me with the OVPP. They are not addressing low-income wages in the valley.”
“I agree that did not shake out in the OVPP meetings,” said Feier. “I’m not sure why that didn’t get more traction.”
“Without diversifying the economy, I’m not sure how we lift our people up,” said Keating. “That’s a challenge. The energy and movement from the Front Range will come this way. How do we control it?”
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell asked if the funding request would be an annual ask. She said the town has a grant funding process that is currently in place. “You seem to be doing lots of great stuff,” she said. “The TA has a big budget.”
“We don’t know what will happen next year but we will be earlier to the gate,” said Keating. “But we are asking the towns and county to let this group show that there is a good return on investment. It is a relatively low request, so relatively low risk.”
Councilman Chris Haver said he and his bed-and-breakfast business have utilized some of the services and it was helpful. “I’m also not huge in bringing in outside companies to the valley but helping local business is nicer and can work. We are in the middle of a grant cycle and that’s tough,” he said. “We need to look at our budget and see if it can work.”
The ICELab will get together with town finance director Robb Zillioux and begin the grant process, which has a spring deadline of Friday, May 18.