Garfield County funds several economic development efforts
Garfield County commissioners agreed Monday to fund three separate economic development requests, including community-based efforts in Carbondale and Rifle to attract new businesses and help existing ones grow.
As an extension of its efforts to create jobs, the county will also put up money to put area youth and young adults to work this year through the Western Colorado Conservation Corps.
Commissioners approved spending $150,000 from the county’s discretionary funds on the various efforts, including $25,000 each for the Carbondale Economic Development Partnership and the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp.
The Roaring Fork Business Resource Center (RFBRC), which concentrates its efforts on steering new and existing businesses in the lower Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County toward various educational resources to help them succeed, was granted $20,000 for its work. The county also supported the RFBRC last year for the same amount.
The county will also work with the Grand Junction-based Western Colorado Conservation Corps to set up at least two work crews in Garfield County, using Garfield County workers ages 18-22, at an estimated cost of $40,000 per crew.
“I want to get going with this,” said Commissioner Mike Samson, who suggested the money for the various efforts come out of discretionary funds rather than the county’s economic development programs fund.
“I see these kinds of programs as a worthwhile use of our discretionary budget, and I don’t have a problem spending from there,” he said.
The funding was approved unanimously by the three-member county board. However, the commissioners do want regular updates from the different groups to make sure progress is being made and the county money isn’t going to waste.
Recently, the county asked Ford Frick of BBC Consulting to make recommendations on the county’s role in economic development efforts. With numerous community-based efforts already under way, and groups like the RFBRC working as a resource referral agency, Frick advised the county to serve more as a facilitator between the different groups.
The Carbondale and Rifle organizations are both working to bring new jobs to their respective communities by encouraging businesses to relocate or start up locally.
“We are looking at attracting businesses that are consistent with Carbondale’s flavor, including outdoors oriented businesses, education and alternative energy,” said Dave Weimer, who is part of the Carbondale group. “That can encompass a wide range of different businesses.”
The Carbondale group recently received $20,000 from the town of Carbondale, and is operating under the umbrella of an existing nonprofit organization, the Mountain Regional Housing Corp. The economic development group is autonomous from the that organization, however, Weimer said.
The Rifle economic development group is targeting new businesses as well, and is working to retain existing businesses and help them expand, said RREDC Manager Julie Bjurstrom.
“We are looking at how to help these businesses grow, and what’s preventing them from being able to grow,” she said.
The Roaring Fork Business Resource Center, for its part, received a multi-year grant from the Colorado Economic Development Commission to organize educational workshops for business owners on a variety of topics and to provide mentorship for start-up businesses.
“What we do is support local economic development efforts,” RFBRC Executive Director Randi Lowenthal said. “We don’t recruit and try to attract new businesses. What we do is more hands-on in working with businesses to help them succeed.”
The organization also administers the town of Carbondale’s revolving loan program, which provides low-interest loans to local start-up businesses or established businesses that are looking to expand.
Last month, commissioners also asked county long-range planner Tamra Allen to look into setting up a youth corps program. In the meantime, she contacted the Grand Junction-based WCCC, which indicated that it was interested in expanding to Garfield County.
“The WCCC could facilitate work crews this summer for multiple weeks, depending on county funding commitments,” Allen advised in a memo.
Crews could be put to work on projects in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, including trail work, wildfire mitigation, habitat restoration and streambank stabilization, she said.
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Former Rifle Bears standout turned starting running back for Western Colorado University Ty Leyba remembers it like it was yesterday.