Rifle takes economic development regional

In a sign of the times, a number of governments in Garfield County are turning their focus toward economic development.

“When things are going great, you don’t pay any attention to it,” Sally Brands, a board member of the Rifle Economic Development Corp., said of the come-and-go economic development efforts in the county over the decades.

The Rifle organization is an exception to the rule. It incorporated as a nonprofit in 2007, looking to diversify the city’s economy when natural gas development still was booming in the county and the recession had yet to strike the region.

Now, with Garfield County’s unemployment rate at 10.8 percent as of January, the group’s efforts are attracting interest beyond Rifle’s borders.  It has formed partnerships with New Castle and Parachute to become a regional endeavor and is looking to promote the county at large.

“The time is right for this. People are interested,” said Michael Langhorne, the group’s board president. “It’s just they’re waiting for the leadership to step up. We’ve been at it for four years, and we want to continue.”

At the same time, some area governments are starting down their own economic development paths, leaving it unclear how the Rifle group’s efforts might fit in.

Langhorne said Glenwood Springs has shown interest in the regional approach, but Silt has decided to go its own way at least for now, and business leaders in Carbondale are looking at undertaking something in that town.

“Everybody’s searching right now as to what’s the best way to go,” he said.

Garfield County also is in discussions with a company that would help it work on economic development goals such as rebranding the county.

Meanwhile, the Rifle group is asking the county to chip in $40,000 to its work. That would include $15,000 toward upgrading its website to target entities evaluating economic development opportunities in the county.

County commissioners on Monday tentatively discussed contributing $20,000 to the Rifle group’s effort but delayed action to make sure those efforts would differ from the work the county already is contracting to have done.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said the county is pursuing study of economic development, but the Rifle group has the advantage of being able to act more quickly on an immediate problem.

“I do support what you’re doing. I do think it’s very important. … Now is the time we need to work on this,” he said.


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