Consultants upbeat about Garfield County Air Park development plans |

Consultants upbeat about Garfield County Air Park development plans

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

A consultant congratulated Garfield County on its encouraging approach to development, at least where the land around the county airport is concerned.

“I thought you were all in the same boat with Vail and Aspen, being no-growth nutcases,” remarked Fred Meade of the consulting firm, Explorer Solutions, at one point during a meeting on Wednesday with the board of county commissioners and other officials.

The company has been hired to determine what kinds of businesses would work best in the Air Park, an industrial and commercial zone planned for the land around the airport, which is located near Rifle.

Among other things, Meade and his partner, Christian Perreault, told county officials this week that it seems the county airport is virtually unknown to residents outside what is loosely termed “the western end of the county.”

“The eastern part of the county doesn’t know the airport at all,” commented Perreault

Still, said Commissioner Tresi Houpt, the consultants need to be careful to survey the entire county, “from Carbondale to Parachute and Battlement Mesa,” as they look for ways to attract industry and commercial enterprises to locate in the terrain surrounding the airport.

Meade, in particular, seemed cheered to learn that the county is committed to the idea of economic development around the airport, as opposed to the way development is viewed in nearby Eagle and Pitkin counties.

In Garfield County, agreed Commissioner Mike Samson, development is not viewed negatively, “especially in the west end.”

Meade and Perreault have been conducting “focus group” meetings with business, aviation and community leaders to get a feeling for what kind of economic development the locals might desire, and now are about to write up a draft report on their findings.

That report is to be submitted to the county within a month or a month and a half, Meade said.

Much of what Meade and Perreault reported to the commissioners revolved around the need to integrate local educational facilities, such as Colorado Mountain College, with any effort at economic development.

“Retraining will be a key issue,” said Perreault, and added that given the relatively high cost of living in the county, economic development must involve jobs with relatively high pay.

Meade emphasized that economic development does not necessarily involve manufacturing or heavy industry, and Perreault noted that the search for appropriate businesses might focus on “subsectors to aerospace,” or types of business that deal with different kinds of support for the aviation field.

Perreault mentioned manufacturing, research and development, training and education and maintenance as possible areas of interest.

The two consultants said their efforts likely will be linked to the county’s predominant industry, oil and gas exploration, which they predicted will rebound at some point.

But, noted commissioner Houpt, the industry might never return to the boom levels of 2004 to 2007.

In which case, Meade said, the time is right to think about diversification.

“In spite of the down economy,” he said, “you’ve got really a blank slate” in terms of a workforce primed for retraining and changes in employment.

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