Economy & Economic Development  June 3, 2011

Weld, Larimer pitch in on initiative

Relocating the National Western Stock Show from Denver to Weld County is just one of several ideas to come out of a recent goal-setting exercise to improve the economy of the region and ultimately the state’s as well.

Although it’s not yet known how the exercise by all 64 counties across the state will translate into a statewide economic development plan, officials who took part in the effort in Northern Colorado say they believe it was worthwhile and could lead to closer cooperation between Larimer and Weld counties on regional economic development projects.

County officials, business leaders, economic development officials and citizens pitched in to develop separate goals and strategies for each county and then blended the results into a single unified vision.

“I think we meshed pretty good on the process, and when the plans were combined I saw tremendous cooperation between the counties,” said Trevor Jiricek, Weld County’s director of planning and environmental health services.

“Neighboring counties don’t always see eye-to-eye,” he added. “But I was impressed by the cooperation.”

That was part of the reason Gov. John Hickenlooper launched the Statewide Bottom-Up Economic Development Initiative shortly after taking office in January. Spearheaded by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the initiative asked all 64 Colorado counties to develop goals and strategies for improving their local economies. The counties were then grouped into 14 regions, with each region assigned the task of developing a unified plan that would require across-the-border cooperation and communication.

Mixed signals

But some involved in the process said it was sometimes confusing and rushed. “The whole thing was interesting,” said Frank Lancaster, Larimer County manager. “It felt like the state was kind of making it up as they went along.”

In addition to changing deadlines and a very short timeline, Lancaster said the state sent mixed signals as to how each county should gather its input. In the end, Larimer and Weld counties each took very different paths to getting a plan developed.

While Weld County officials hosted a series of public meetings across the county, Larimer County formed a committee of four people — Commissioner Lew Gaiter, Fort Collins businessman Don Taranto, Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. Interim CEO Don Churchwell and Department of Local Affairs Regional Manager Don Sandoval — to lead its effort through an online survey.

On May 4, the two groups got together for a final meeting to hash out a unified plan that contained the most important elements of each, Lancaster said.

“They had a lot of specific ideas, but I don’t think we had anything specific at all,” he said. “Ours was more from the 30,000-foot level.”

While both counties said they wanted to create more primary jobs and promote a healthy business climate and a diversified economic base, Weld County advocated some specific ideas for boosting the appeal of the region. In addition to relocating the stock show to Weld County, ideas included moving the Broncos training camp back to the UNC campus, moving the state agriculture department to Weld County and pushing for a NASCAR race track.

“We definitely thought outside the box,” said Weld Commissioner Doug Rademacher. “When we met with state government staff, they said we set the bar very high because we put in specific things that could help our area.”

The National Western Stock Show, held every January in Denver, has an annual economic impact of $100 million on the Denver Metro Area over its 16-day run. While stock show officials have said they are considering another location for the event, Stock Show CEO Paul Andrews said he did not have any comment on Weld County’s suggestion.

“We’re doing some due diligence on several sites and do not have a site located at this time to comment on,” he said.

The NISP issue

Weld County also insisted on declaring one of the goals for the region to support new water storage and delivery systems in the region, including the Northern Integrated Supply Project that would create new reservoirs in Larimer and Weld counties.

That goal elicited a strong objection from the Save the Poudre environmental group that opposes NISP and particularly Glade Reservoir, which would be built just outside Poudre Canyon and which STP says would ruin the river.

Gary Wockner, STP spokesman, said the Bottom-Up effort “subverted” the public process by not allowing NISP opponents to be heard.

But Rademacher said STP had plenty of opportunities to be heard, either through the seven public meetings held in Weld County or by posting an online comment.

“(The process) was open to the public,” he said.

Now that the county process has been completed, those who took part say they’re not sure what will happen next.

“My personal opinion is that for the governor to take the 14 regions and their five or six basic ideas and blend them all together is going to be a challenge for the final plan,” Churchwell said. “What is important is that it was a good exercise and one for the people involved to follow through on and be as specific as they possibly can.”

“We hope it doesn’t just get shoved into a desk drawer,” Rademacher added. “Even if the governor doesn’t act on this, this is great information for us. Even if nothing happens on the state level, we will use it in-house.”

“I think it started some discussions and we’ll have more discussions on our end,” Lancaster noted. “I’m not sure how much will come out of this plan, but the state will have a better concept of Northern Colorado. And we know that a lot of the economic development will still be local and not from the state level.”

Relocating the National Western Stock Show from Denver to Weld County is just one of several ideas to come out of a recent goal-setting exercise to improve the economy of the region and ultimately the state’s as well.

Although it’s not yet known how the exercise by all 64 counties across the state will translate into a statewide economic development plan, officials who took part in the effort in Northern Colorado say they believe it was worthwhile and could lead to closer cooperation between Larimer and Weld counties on regional economic development projects.

County officials, business leaders, economic…

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