Economic development seeks $100K in funding

Equal participation sought from whole valley

Members of the economic development group that has been meeting since March appeared before the Board of County Commissioners October 11 to discuss funding for a valley-wide economic development plan. Promoting a volunteer-driven effort, the group will seek funding from Gunnison County and the area municipalities.


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Commissioner Paula Swenson initially lead the charge for an economic development plan as part of Governor Hickenlooper’s Bottoms Up Initiative, but the latest recommendations come from a working group led by the Gunnison Chamber of Commerce and the Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce.
Their suggestion is to keep that working group in place—with four members from each end of the valley—and raise $100,000 in funding each year. Rather than being put toward hiring staff, the funds will go toward initiatives that help the group meet its goals of growing existing businesses, diversifying the valley’s economic base, increasing tourism, creating a more business-friendly climate, and creating new, better-paying jobs.
According to Swenson, proposed funding would increase the Annual Business and Occupational License Tax (BOLT) for Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte businesses, and the Gunnison sales tax license by $20. County-wide funding would come from what Swenson called the vendor fee return.
“When you are a sales tax payer, you collect 1 percent for the county and then 3.33 percent of that you can deduct off your sales tax. It is returned to you as a fee from the county for collections, and so what we’re looking at is reducing that to 2.33 percent, taking 1 percent of the 1 percent of sales tax and instead of returning that back to the collector, using that to help fund the [economic development] efforts,” Swenson said.
For a business with $1 million of retail sales per year, she said, that would amount to about $100 per year. If that business contributed through the vendor fee return plus the BOLT and the Gunnison sales tax licenses, it would be about $140 per year. Swenson also said that additional funding of about $40,000 would come from soliciting a Gunnison County contribution of $25,000 and $5,000 from Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butt and Gunnison on top of the business fees.
“What we’re hoping to accomplish here is to secure funding sources so that the ED [economic development] group isn’t spending 90 percent of its time fundraising and 10 percent of its time trying to get economic development going, “ said ED group member Greg Larsen of GL Electronics. Bill Ronai, president of the Red Lady Coalition board, echoed Larsen’s comments.
“The funding requests are modest in relation to what we’re trying to accomplish… We’re not taking on any paid staff, it’s all volunteer…and it’s a goal-driven kind of funding… It makes sure the organization sets deliverables and has measurable results so that if, at end of it, people aren’t happy, they can cut off or go back to the drawing board and recalibrate this thing,” Ronai said.
“It’s very even across the board, unlike the last structure that we had where you had to pay to play in economic development; this way every business has a little bit of buy-in and everybody has equal representation with the efforts that are moving forward,” added Swenson.
In response to the proposal, Commissioner Hap Channell said he was glad to see the mix of private and public involvement. He felt it was a modest and appropriate use of taxpayer dollars, but that past economic development efforts were too heavily funded by government funds.
“I’m going to be watching, as we all are, to see how the private community, the business community, responds to the suggestions of increasing some of their license fees with BOLT or whatever mechanism we’re going to have,” Channell said, clear that he was speaking as one commissioner. “I’m not going to say I want to see what they do first necessarily, but I might consider an option of an ‘up to’ commitment… so it doesn’t get government-subsidy heavy. I think that balance between the private sector and taxpayer dollars is important.”
Channell also wondered whether there were questions of legality if the county allocated its part of the county sales tax to economic development. County manager Matthew Birnie explained that it would require an intergovernmental agreement between the county and the towns.
“We would keep our half of that tax but would then have to… get the towns and cities to remit their share to the ED organization,” Birnie explained.
Swenson agreed that portion of funding would be the hardest to get across the finish line, but so far the group had received positive feedback, particularly in regard to increasing the BOLT.
“Up north they’re saying that they don’t think they’re going to have a problem with the BOLT increase because they have not been increasing it for the last several years anyhow and this is a good use of those funds for them,” Swenson said.
Commissioner Phil Chamberland added his support for the idea, saying “It’s not a small number but economic development is something we haven’t been putting into as a county for a while and we need to start.”
No formal approval of funding has been made, but the commissioners and members of the economic development group continue to move forward. On October 11, they received a presentation on the challenges of and solutions to providing better broadband in rural communities from the mayor of Bayfield and the Governor’s Office of Information and Technology. The economic development group will go before the town councils the week of October 16 to share the plan for funding, and the matter will return to the Board of County Commissioners at its next regular meeting on October 17.
According to Swenson, they had new ideas and ways to survey what Gunnison County has and what it needs.
“We’ll start on that right away,” Swenson said.

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