Business effort seeks better approval process
CARBONDALE, Colorado – A new town economic development effort should be required to show measurable results over time, and be able to weather Carbondale’s ever-shifting political winds.
Those were two of the points made by members of the Carbondale Board of Trustees, which heard an update from the recently formed Carbondale Economic Development Partnership at the trustees’ Tuesday night meeting.
“I have been supportive of the effort, but I also want it to be a sustainable effort,” Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot said.
“I anticipate we will be seeing a budget request from you [for 2012], and we do have more demands for limited dollars,” she said. “We need to be able to see some results.”
The town board agreed last spring to put $20,000 toward the new partnership. The coalition of local business and community leaders is working on ways to attract new and established businesses to Carbondale.
“We’re excited, and we have done a lot of work in a short amount of time,” said partnership board president Dave Weimer. “And we have a lot of work left to do.”
To date, the partnership has met with other groups in Carbondale and throughout the region whose focus is also on economic development and business growth. That has included the Carbondale Business Coalition, the Carbondale Chamber, the Roaring Fork Business Resource Center, Garfield County government officials, and the Rifle Economic Development Corp., Weimer said.
In addition to the funding from the town, the partnership received $25,000 from Garfield County economic development fund. A $45,000 grant request to the El Pomar Foundation is also pending, he said.
The partnership is also working with the chamber to put on a fall business conference. By the end of the year, it also hopes to have developed a strategic plan and capital development initiative, and to launch a new website promoting Carbondale.
“We have had lots of folks come and talk to us,” Weimer said. “One of the things we’ve heard from small business owners and developers who’ve tried to come here is that they’ve found the process to be broken … that Carbondale is a difficult place to start a business.”
When asked to explain, Weimer said the frustration mostly has to do with what some view as the lack of a set timeline and concise process, especially when it comes to building and zoning regulations.
“People need an expectation of how long it will take to start up a new business,” said Debbie Patrick, who is also working with the local partnership. “Garfield County has been working to become more business friendly, and we need to turn around that image that Carbondale has.”
But some trustees pointed out that there’s a difference between new development proposals, and attempts to attract new businesses to town.
“We’re not talking about development,” Trustee Frosty Merriott said. “I think of this as being directed more at someone who’s wanting to start up a business with three, four, however many employees.”
But Trustee John Foulkrod said there are ramifications in the way of economic development with zoning codes.
“What people don’t understand sometimes is the zoning, and that certain new jobs and businesses aren’t even in the code,” Foulkrod said, referring to businesses that want to build from scratch or redevelop a property. Newer types of uses had not been envisioned in some of the older codes, he said.
Bernot said the partnership, which for now is operating under the nonprofit umbrella of the Mountain Regional Housing Corp., should remain apart from politics.
“One of the questions I have is, can this group weather the storm of different political motives, attempts at business protectionism … those kinds of things,” she said.
Trustee Ed Cortez noted that the Carbondale group will likely be in competition with economic development efforts in other nearby communities and regions.
The Carbondale group is also developing a job description for an executive director. Cortez wondered if a shared director working regionally might be considered.
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