Garfield County looks into options for economic development

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

PARACHUTE, Colo. – A nascent Rifle area economic development initiative failed to win financial support from Garfield County on Monday, primarily because the county is in the midst of negotiations with a consultant in the same field.

But each of the three commissioners assured Rifle businessman Michael Langhorne, chairman of the of the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. (RREDC), and Julie Bjurstrom, the corporation’s executive director, that the commissioners support the corporation’s work.

“We’re not trying to stymie that,” Commissioner John Martin told Langhorne, as it became evident that the commissioners would not come through with the $40,000 sought by the RREDC.

The commissioners voted unanimously to wait until Assistant County Manager Dale Hancock has finished negotiations with an unidentified economic development consulting firm before making any decisions about working with the RREDC.

Hancock is negotiating a contract with one of six firms that responded to the county’s recent request for proposals to provide consulting services on economic development options in the county. He cautioned the commissioners against awarding the money to the RREDC right away, advising the board to wait until the details of the consultant’s contract are known.

He is working with an economic development programs budget of $469,000. The county government is already planning to use $230,000 of that fund for the air show to be held at the Garfield County Regional Airport this summer.

Hancock said he believes the commissioners “want to keep the door open for future considerations concerning economic development” and working with the RREDC.

The RREDC, which currently is working on economic development with the towns of Parachute, Rifle and New Castle, presented a budget of nearly $100,000 in expenses, including Bjurstrom’s salary of $41,600.

The organization, created in 2007, hopes to “act somewhat as a liaison” between local governments and the private sector.

“I like what I’m hearing,” said Commissioner Mike Samson of the work of the RREDC so far.

“But I’m a little concerned. Where’s Silt? And where’s Glenwood? And where’s Carbondale?” Samson asked, referring to the absence of the county’s other three towns from membership in the RREDC.

Langhorne said the three towns already have their own economic development efforts under way, though he said his group was willing to reach out to them again.

“The time is right for this,” he said. “People are interested. They’re waiting for the leadership to step up.”

One RREDC backer, Parachute Trustee Juanita Williams, urged the commissioners to support the group because it has “a tremendous amount of momentum” that a consultant will not have.

“I don’t think that the people in this county have too much more time to be sitting on their thumbs,” she said. Without some concrete progress on economic development, she said, “I think this county’s going to start losing ground,” and risk having more ailing businesses, rising unemployment and fewer opportunities.

Rifle businesswoman Sally Brands said she has seen more than one “knee-jerk reaction to economic development,” including the county’s hiring of an economic development director in 1984 after the collapse of the oil shale boom.

“In my experience … you’re not going to attract some outside outfit that’s going to come in and create a hundred jobs,” she declared. “And then they’re gone in five years, anyway.”

She urged the commissioners to choose the Rifle-based organization over a consultant, because of the local organization’s knowledge of local conditions.

Bjurstrom, reached at the Economic Development Corp.’s office on Monday afternoon, said the organization is in good financial shape already. If the county does not contribute the requested $40,000, she said, “it certainly won’t break the EDC.”

But Bjurstrom expressed hope that the county will work with the Economic Development Corp. because, “We feel we really are the long-term solution to economic development in Garfield County.”