Agency looks to bolster mountain economy
May 11, 2011
Hoping to strengthen and diversify local economies, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments is seeking citizen input to help develop a regional economic strategy.
The organization has written a preliminary draft of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, available online for public comment until the end of this month. The strategy is designed to bring private and public sectors together to create an “economic road map,” but it also has a bigger purpose: It’s an important step in helping NWCCOG obtain status as an economic development district.
The distinction would mean the organization’s five county region – which includes Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin and Summit counties, also known as Region 12 – would be recognized by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and thus be eligible for federal funding.
“It’s an entry into possible funding opportunities we would not be eligible for were we not a district,” said Rachel Lunney, research project director for Northwest COG. Districts in Colorado typically receive about $50,000 in annual funding, she said.
Lunney said the organization started looking into district status a few years ago, with the hope that administration membership would assist Northwest COG’s towns and counties in a down economy. To obtain this distinction, the EDA requires a strategy be developed; the administration provided Northwest COG with a $35,000 grant for its creation. If Northwest COG is approved as a district, the strategy is required to be updated every two years, and completely rewritten every five.
Lunney said Northwest COG would like to use the money would be used to further its goals. The current draft lists numerous regional objectives, including: support small businesses; pursue funding of state and federal grants and encourage private sector investment; strengthen non-resort-based tourism like fishing and hunting; expand retail diversity to reduce sales tax leakage; and develop economic development infrastructure like parks, roads, and recreational amenities. The strategy also incorporates the stakeholder input gathered from Region 12 during Gov. Hickenlooper’s recent statewide Bottom Up Economic Development initiative.
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An example of how Northwest COG could benefit the region with the extra funds, Lunney said, would be if a community approached the organization with an idea for a renewable energy project. Northwest COG would be able to help identify funding sources or apply for grants.
The draft is available online for public comment until May 25 at http://www.nwccog.org. The Northwest COG board of directors will approve the final study at a May 26 meeting. Lunney said any comments from the public will be brought to the board prior to approval of the final draft.
The final draft, along with a final report, goes to the EDA for consideration on May 31. Lunney said she is not sure of the administration’s decision timeline.