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Economic development meeting draws large crowd

It’s important, according to Romero, for everyone in the state to get behind ideas that come from the local communities and leaders. He says we have to find out what is working and what is not working in each area. “If the state can find two to three ideas that are good for the entire state, then we can all move forward.”
Romero says Governor John Hickenlooper and others realize that over 65% of net job gains come from small business. He says the governor wants dialogue to build strategy that we can all own. “People, jobs and services are interrelated.” said Romero. Tony Hernandez expressed the need to find the “economic drivers” that create economic development. It was mentioned that where there are jobs, there are people and when there are no jobs, the number of people in an area dwindle.
Those in attendance then broke up into the two county groups, Las Animas and Huerfano County, to set up discussions. A Huerfano County citizens group was formed to discuss our needs locally. Four members were chosen: an elected official, County Commissioner Art Bobian; a business leader, Todd Oberheu of the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center; an economic development leader, Al Tucker; and a state partner, Bill Gray of the Department of Economic Development. A tentative meeting date of March 16 was discussed but is contingent on finding an available site to hold the meeting. It will be open to anyone in Huerfano County interested in economic development.
Several questions were asked of those attending. What federal, state or local government rules or regulations hinder economic development in your area? What resources are needed for economic development? How do you retain current business? What would help counties to expand economic opportunities?
There were some off-the-cuff responses to those questions. For example, it was noticed that there were no Walsenburg city officials at this meeting. City officials had a water meeting previously scheduled, but some wondered why they couldn’t have sent a representative. There were no bankers present in the Huerfano County group although officials said there was a banker in the Las Animas County group. This led some people to say that since the banks aren’t owned locally, they aren’t as motivated in investing locally.
Banking in general was cited as a problem in the U.S. as many banks are not loaning money for businesses to expand or citizens to begin a small business. Another citizen said that we need more knowledge of what businesses are here and what services they offer which can assist in shopping locally. Another criticized many local merchants for not being open enough hours or having inconsistent hours. Also, it was said that having to pay Bacon-Davis wages for local projects creates problems for small communities. It was pointed out that the library project in Walsenburg couldn’t use as many local contractors because Bacon-Davis wages are lower in bigger cities because larger companies have the resources that smaller communities don’t have available.
Some of the successes discussed were the Spanish Peaks Library, the new grocery store, and the fiscal responsibility of the Huerfano County Commissioners who went to their employees & elected officials and asked how money could be saved. This is what the governor’s bottom-up program is partly about. Another success story mentioned was the broadband business that three citizens began near Gardner with assistance from the county and other local businesses to help with high speed internet service. The overall growth shown by Quest Enterprises, located in Walsenburg, was another positive aspect mentioned for Huerfano County.
The number of people that showed up to the meeting pleased government officials who hope that good ideas and positive solutions can come out of these types of gatherings.

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