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Park County looks for new industry

LINDA BALOUGH
Special to the Daily/Linda Balough Gary Cullen of Hartsel puts the final touches on one of the high-quality bathtubs made by Water Dance LLC in Fairplay, one of very few manufacturers in Park County. In operation for nine months, the company currently employs nine workers and expects to eventually have 75 to 100 employees. The company will introduce its latest high end model at the International Kitchen and Bath Expo in Las Vegas, May 11 to 13.
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FAIRPLAY – The business climate is changing in Park County toward more aggressive economic development. Since the 1800s heydays, gold and silver mining has gradually dwindled to a handful of working mines operating in Park County, and jobs have continuously bled away into the neighboring counties.No significant new industry has replaced mining. The Park County commissioners have decided something must be done to attract jobs to give residents an opportunity to work within their home county. Except for government agencies, every business in the county employs less than 50 people. The state Department of Local Affairs reports that more than 54 percent of the population works outside the county, traveling an average of just under 45 minutes to reach their jobs.They also want to attract more business activity to counteract the dependency on residential property taxes.”Residential property does not pay for itself,” County Commissioner Jim Gardner has long observed.His statement was confirmed by the experts from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, whom the Park County Board of Commissioners invited to a business forum on Tuesday, April 26. The economy of Park County has been one of the victims of the combination of the TABOR and Gallagher Amendments to the Colorado Constitution.

Those amendments interact to require that of the total of taxes collected, a predetermined “balance” must be maintained between residential and commercial sources. However, in Park County, as more and more second homes and permanent residences are built without a corresponding increase in businesses, a smaller tax rate is required of residential property and the rate for commercial property rises. Talking about businessThe forum gathered together business people, county government department heads, representatives of both the South Park and Platte Canyon chambers of commerce, Fairplay town government and interested citizens.,They met with the governor’s Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (COEDIT) to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and negatives to future economic development.”We are looking for strategies to capture more revenue and to attract new investment in the community,” said Park County Tourism and Community Development director Gary Nichols. Quality workforce One of the foremost requirements for attracting good jobs is a good workforce.”You have a higher than state or national average per capita income and a high educational level,” said Pattie Snidow, senior business development representative with COEDIT.

The two COEDIT speakers provided statistics that showed that Park County has experienced a more than 100 percent growth rate between 1990 and 2000, with most of the population clustered at the edges of the county. Many of these workers live in Park County for the abundance of natural amenities for outdoor recreation, and a relaxed lifestyle, but spend much of their time driving to the resorts or the Front Range.If quality jobs were available in Park County, Snidow speculated that these commuters would relish being able to work and spend time at home. Central location; plenty of land The forum participants determined that while Park County has good highway access to the Front Range and resort areas, it suffers from a shortage of telecommunication capability over most of its 2,200 square miles. With fast internet connections, the group thought it possible to attract the second-home owner or current commuters to work from their homes in Park County. While land is plentiful, the lack of basic infrastructure is slowing down interest from businesses that otherwise might take advantage of Park County’s central location.The two incorporated towns of Alma and Fairplay and the community of Bailey have water and sewer services available, but other areas of the county do not. Help is available

Snidow, who has worked with 22 Western Slope counties on economic development, cited a number of state and federal sources for assistance with rural development.”We can help you with developing things like water and sewer services to attract businesses,” she said. Chuck Broerman, the business development representative for Park and the adjacent counties of El Paso and Teller, said money could be available for job training as well as other services that will help with analysis of the opportunities and potential development.As an example of a business that could attract other companies, Snidow suggested the establishment of a small airport might supply the impetus for aviation-related and other businesses to cluster around the facility, citing other Colorado communities that had capitalized on the financial incentives available for small airports.Good business climateWilliam James, a businessman in the process of establishing a high-tech shooting range in the county, offered up high praise for the “positive and flexible attitude of the Park County government in helping me establish this business where it should be – dead center in the heart of the state. This is not the time for Park County to be timid,” he said, adding now is the time for the county to think outside of the box and attract emerging businesses.Snidow suggested that the county begin immediately to work on planning for areas for business development and to work on getting the proper infrastructure in place. She cautioned that the process of attracting the kind of businesses best for Park County would take five to seven years to mature, but the time to begin is now.


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