Glenwood outlook: ‘tremendous opportunities’
When it comes to economic development in the Mountain West, gone are the days of “elephant hunting” for big corporate relocations that promise lots of new jobs and put communities in competition with each other for the best deal, according to a new study being published by the Sonoran Institute.
Catchphrases like “bigger is better” and “open for business” are also passé, Clark Anderson, director of the Institute’s Colorado office in Glenwood Springs, said Thursday during a presentation before the Glenwood Springs Chamber’s annual Economic Forecast Forum.
Rather, the new approach to growing local economies in places where people want to live is focused more on retaining and expanding existing businesses, growing jobs from within the community, creating opportunities for local entrepreneurship, public/private partnerships and regional cooperation, Anderson said.
The conclusions are made in the Sonoran Institute’s soon-to-be-published new study, “Place Value: A Fresh Approach to Economic Development in the West.”
When it comes to “place,” Glenwood Springs is well-positioned to be able to attract and retain the talented professionals associated with the emerging new “knowledge-based” sector of the economy, he said.
“We have the community assets, the location in and near resorts, we’re on the banks of two rivers, and we’re on I-70,” Anderson said before the gathering of Glenwood Springs and Garfield County business professionals, elected officials and government leaders at the Hotel Denver.
“But that also means we have to work that much harder to make the right decisions and not squander the opportunities we have,” he said.
Surveys of business owners in the five-state region where the Sonoran Institute focuses its community development efforts found that 70 percent of the respondents chose where they live because of the community. Their business venture followed suit, according to the study.
“People are drawn to great places, and the overall quality and character of a community is an important factor,” Anderson said.
Likewise, general community surveys found that workers value the quality of the community as an important factor in where they have chosen to live, while their job was secondary, he said.
As a result, people are willing to sacrifice salary and deal with the high cost of housing in order to live in an “ideal community,” he said.
Those communities can respond by gearing their development toward creating a diverse mix of housing that is affordable for a range of incomes, which is also supported by the surveys used in the study.
Among the community members surveyed, 68 percent indicated there was not enough housing in their community to meet their needs. And 60 percent of employers who were surveyed said the cost of housing had an impact on their ability to attract employees, Anderson shared.
“Glenwood Springs has a tremendous amount of opportunities, but we have some challenges, too,” he said.
That extends to local decisions around housing, transportation and “placemaking,” or the creation of “places where people want to hang out.”
Anderson commended the city of Glenwood Springs and the Downtown Development Authority for their partnership to bring the recent pedestrian improvements to Seventh Street and elsewhere downtown.
He also praised Garfield County officials for pulling together the new “economic development partners” group, an informal coalition of chambers of commerce, economic development organizations and other business interests throughout the county, to better coordinate economic development efforts.
“We are part of a larger region, and we need to think as a region about how want to move forward economically,” Anderson said.
The chamber event also included “state of the economy” reports from both Garfield County and the city of Glenwood Springs, as well as Colorado Mountain College and Valley View Hospital.
Glenwood Springs City Manager Jeff Hecksel reported that city sales tax collections for 2014 are expected to come in about 7 percent over 2013 numbers once the December figures are released next month.
That marks a huge turnaround in the city’s economy as gauged by consumer spending since the economic downturn that hit six years ago. A big chunk of that renewed spending has been on building materials and supplies purchased in the city, he said.
“Visually, we are noticing some things that we haven’t seen in quite awhile in terms of construction,” Hecksel said. “And the numbers are reflecting that.”
While sales tax figures related to retail spending are still about 6 percent behind the peak highs of 2008, “it’s possible I might be able to come before you next year and say we’re back to where we were,” Hecksel said.
Garfield County Manager Andrew Gorgey also pointed out that the county has invested in numerous public infrastructure projects in communities throughout the county, to the tune of $4.65 million last year alone.
The county has also been able to save more than $5 million in interest costs on its own capital investments in recent years, through the early retirement of certificates of participation that were used to fund those projects, Gorgey said.
In addition to the economic reports, representatives from the Colorado Department of Transportation also gave an overview of the ongoing planning efforts around the replacement of the Grand Avenue Bridge on Highway 82 in downtown Glenwood Springs.
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Several Carbondale businesses are scrambling to relocate and others are just plain calling it quits following plans for one of the town’s oldest strip malls to be redeveloped.