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PUMA Details 1st Phase of Economic Development for County

PUMA Representatives, L-R: Anna Jones, Erin Lyng and Erika Heller

PUMA Representatives, L-R: Anna Jones, Erin Lyng and Erika Heller

Initial ideas for economic development within Prowers County were laid out for the Prowers County Commissioners during an informational meeting with PUMA representatives on Monday, April 11th.  “We’ve been developing ideas based upon the feedback we received from our conversations during our tour earlier this year,” said Anna Jones, PUMA, Vice-President of Progressive Urban Management Associates.  The firm was hired by the county several months ago to provide specific guidelines to help bring jobs to the area and/or develop additional jobs for existing businesses.  The strategies will include several phases of development which will culminate in an action plan tentatively expected for late summer.

Jones, accompanied by two PUMA representatives, explained a summary of ideas that ranged from new opportunities for agricultural growth, specialty manufacturing, cottage industry production, retail/services, middle skill level jobs, tourism, qualify of life and leadership for ‘big’ ideas. “We put together strategies we hope are rooted in what’s happening in Prowers County and building upon the strengths and the assets here,” she added.  Jones explained that the summery of ideas dealt more with the ‘what’ for opportunities and the ‘how’ will be presented later for implementing the ideas.

She explained that the scope of initial ideas included businesses that can start small and grow, such as Colorado Mills in Lamar or Gateway Products in Holly. “We also looked at areas that could transition from a volume-type product to making it more specialized and adding that additional value, as well as areas that can connect to the next generation of residents that brings people to the county,” she explained.

The agricultural component aimed to stem the loss of population and ag jobs with ideas to diversify producer’s income, incorporate specialty crops and use new technologies to enhance operations and business. Achieving those goals could be met through fee-based property access for hunting or birding, heritage based activities for tourism interests or specialty dog breeding with a focus on herding or hunting.  Jones said there were numerous crops on the market which can be produced gluten-free which now attracts national interest in that dietary specialty.  This included a list of low-water crops such as sunflower, sorghum, hemp, millet and Yellow Field Pea which produces gluten-free flour.  Some specialty listings included pasture-raised chickens/eggs, quail and a goat dairy. Jones noted that Angie Cue, Lamar’s new Community Development Director offers years of experience as the executive director of the Colorado Agriculture Leadership Program, and she would be an asset to the community in that area.

Specialty manufacturing looks to the local ag market with manufacturing facilities building off current crops such as grain hulling, hemp manufacturing, seed separation, fiber and meal processing or other areas including animal feed processing, a bottling processing plant or a biofuels facility. Cottage industry options open areas for self-employment without a need for a large capital outlay to get started.  Products could be either sold on-line to existing shops in the area.  Food and personal care products were included as well as heritage based specific craft items or artisan workshops.  The PUMA team listed retail and services with unmet demand in Prowers County.  Some of those areas were Hispanic retail niche markets, a brewery for Granada based on the quality of their water, sports or family-oriented food vendors like a sports bar or family style restaurant.  Another possibility listed was an electronics and tech repair shop.

There were quite a few ventures available from the tourist industry, either through direct jobs or increasing the level of tourism in this part of the state. Two main areas were hunting and heritage entertainment with the county acting as a destination site for horseback riding, a chuckwagon tour over the plains, building on tourism now available through Canyons and Plains’ past efforts and new businesses that cater to tourists such as souvenir shops, restaurants and craft bazaars.  Hunting potential included outfitter services on private lands, a hunting lodge, a commercial kitchen for game preparation and hosting a Small Game event such as the Two Shot Goose Hunt.

Jones also brought some ‘outside-the-box’ ideas as the final part of the proposals. She said there was no guarantee for success, but if one business was obtainable, it would constitute a big win for the county.  Jones listed such ideas as a regional ag distributor, wind farm siting, a USDA research facility, large animal veterinary clinic and again, bordering on the tourism industry, refitting unused railroad track between Swink and Holly and creating a Rails-to-Trails tourist route between the two communities.

The commissioners expressed various viewpoints on the suggestions but were united in the desire to make sure the strategic plans focused on the ‘how’ a means by which the selected ideas could develop into job growth. Henry Schnabel wanted to know if PUMA had ideas on finding the participants who would be willing to try a new business venture or alter their present one.  “There isn’t a lot of available loan money right now,” he stated.  Wendy Buxton-Andrade felt that it wouldn’t be that hard to identify some businesses that would be attracted to the county right away, “We need to get in front of some of these business to make a proposal, but we would need someone who is experienced in making that type of professional proposal on our behalf,” she said.  Ron Cook stated that in the past, there has been a lack of direction, locally.  “We need some local structure, whether through PCDI, or another type of executive director for development.  At the end of this study I want to see how this is laid out, for the steps we need to take to move forward.”

Jones said the next phase of the PUMA study will be to get an assessment from the business and municipal sector, the areas they believe will show the most immediate, positive results. From there she said, the program will concentrate on developing the required expertise for action.  That, she told the commissioners, will be what comes out of the study later this summer.  The PUMA representatives visited with other local retailers, PCDI board members and toured several manufacturers in the county.

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: AgricultureCity of GranadaCity of HollyCity of LamarCity of WileyConsumer IssuesCountyEconomyEmploymentFeaturedTourismTransportation

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