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PCDI Overview on Economic Potential

 

Rick Robbins and Aaron Leiker

Rick Robbins and Aaron Leiker

There was a light agenda for the PCDI monthly meeting, Tuesday, April 26th.  The Prowers County Development Incorporated (PCDI) board was updated on a new business development in Lamar.  Angie Cue, Lamar’s Community Development Director, summarized the efforts of Nebraska Midwest Medical Transport to establish a satellite office, their first venture into Colorado.

“The company is not contracted directly to any one hospital,” she explained, “but will work with medical providers in the region to transport patients to hospitals in Pueblo, Colorado Springs or other cities.” Cue said the company, which originated in Nebraska, has offices in that state as well as Kansas and is considering the vacant building owned by Tress Langston on West Highway 50, on the northern side of the road.  “The building will be refurbished to accommodate two ambulances and staff, 24/7, and can be expanded to hold two more ambulances if there is a demand,” she told the board.  Cue added that part of the conversion includes sanitation, living quarters such as a kitchen and shower and facilities for six full time and four part time employees to start.  She said average wages for the company are $14 per hour for part time and $20 per hour for full time employees.   Cue asked if PCDI could provide some funding to cover sanitation costs, a matter that will be discussed in a future executive session.  She said she and the contractor, Langston, will be put on a future Prowers County Commissioner agenda to see if some consideration could be made for utility installation for the new business.

There was some general discussion that followed, focusing on the PUMA study for job and business development in Prowers County, availability of bank loans for business ventures and the status on a potential hemp operation for the county, similar to the one in La Junta.

County Commissioner, Ron Cook, said, “It’s enlightening to see the interest of the business owners in PUMA’s studies, but I don’t know if, right now, we’re prepared for what the outcome of the study will be. I hope we’ll have the players in place to move forward, but I don’t know right now if they’re there.  I know we do have to become more aggressive.”  He added that just one meeting a month for the PCDI group is probably not sufficient, adding, “We will have to assess the best direction to follow.  We haven’t gotten the best return on the money that’s been invested for these past years.”  Cook added that once the PUMA report is finalized and reviewed later this summer, the county and City of Lamar will need to address what types of business incentives are feasible.  He said we can’t financially compete  with a group like Pueblo Economic Development, so we have to find a business that isn’t that interested in a metro location and can find an interest in developing in Prowers County.  Cook stressed preparation for that moment, “The city, chamber and the county needs to have a complete set of guidelines ready for when someone walks through the door with a business interest in our community.  We can’t wait for three months to get back to them with an answer.  It’s in our best interest to have a general plan of action ready for what we can do for their needs, who they need to visit with to get started.”

Commissioner Wendy Buxton-Andrade echoed Cook’s sentiments adding there has been an outreach effort to Holly, Granada and Wiley for a county-wide buy-in to developing action plans from the forthcoming PUMA recommendations, “This is something that is not going to sit on the shelf like past studies,” she emphasized. PCDI President, Rick Robbins said, “Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.  We have to be ready to assist someone when they walk through our doors.  We’re not going to give them a list of steps to follow and say, ‘best of luck’.  Our policy will be to go with them step-by-step to get them started.”  He added, PUMA will define our qualities and directions for businesses that will be a good fit.  We talked about water availability recently and some area farmers are interested.  Overall, we’ve been in an expansion mode for the past four or five years with bigger farm operations and one of the things we need to explore is higher valued, specialty farming, specialty crops that have a market along the Front Range where they’re looking for those kinds of products.”  Robbins said we have sun, there is sufficient water and there’s open space and ability in Prowers County.

With regard to development of a hemp farming operation, Commissioner Buxton-Andrade offered a caution response, “It is moving, but that’s all we can say right now.” The PCDI board felt the community needed to understand the differences between hemp and marijuana.  He spoke of his operation, Colorado Mills, “We contract with farmers for specific types of oil seed and we see hemp in this way.  There are a lot of products that come from hemp, but the oil product would have to be processed in different facilities.  The fiber can be used for clothing, construction, medicines, insulation, for rope making…the U.S. is the greatest importer of hemp materials in the world.  It’s crazy, but we can’t grow it here.  Buxton-Andrade said the main issue is seeds.  Some are supplied by CSU, but there’s only a limited amount.  Seeds have to be certified as containing less than the restricted amounts of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.  “It would be an uninsurable crop,” she explained, adding that once you have a crop, you’ll have seeds from that generation.  For the time being they have to be imported from Canada, but legally, they can’t cross state lines at this point.

Local lending agencies may be easing up on loans, but they’re more open to businesses with a proven track record. Aaron Leiker, PCDI Vice-President, said his employer, KVAY, was well-received on a recent business proposal, “But we have a great track record over a number of years and that aided us,” he said a brand new business venture would need to have some capital to offer, plus an approved business plan for presentation.  SECED, Southeast Colorado Economic Development, offers gap loans to cover what a bank loan can’t for a business venture, “Stephanie Gonzales has been all around the county making contacts and explaining their operation,” he stated.  Cook said there are a lot of resources in southeast Colorado that haven’t been tapped yet, referring to a visit USDA representatives paid to the county commissioners recently, ”They had a lot of projects in their presentation for grant funding for investment loans and we’ve found other areas since we started this PUMA project.”  Robbins said PUMA representatives are expected to make another visit towards the end of May when the county will have a more definitive view of their recommendations for action.

By Russ Baldwin

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

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