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Economic Development Recommendations from PUMA for Prowers County

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By mid-September, representatives from PUMA, Progressive Urban Management Associates, will return to Lamar to offer their final presentation for economic growth to PCDI, Prowers County Development Incorporated. PUMA is completing a $50,000, eight month assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of economic potential for Prowers County communities.  Their draft assessment, presented in July, provided job growth options for each town in the county.  PUMA representatives will spend September 15th meeting with the PCDI/PEP board of directors, a luncheon meeting with the Prowers County Commissioners, an afternoon meeting with Angie Cue, Lamar’s Community Development Director as well as with the Prowers Economic Prosperity investors and conclude their trip with a meeting for the general public between 5:30pm and 7pm at the Cow Palace Inn’s Colorado Room.

The planning process was a combination of several elements including over 350 responses to an online survey which included responder’s thoughts on what they liked most about the county as well as background information regarding past economic growth plans, site visits and meetings with community leaders from each of the towns, research conducted to identify economic prosperity strategies, short and long term action steps needed to accomplish the most promising opportunities and the PUMA recommendation to reorganize PCDI into a more effective operation from which it has operated over the past half-decade. This included a new job description for an executive director, increasing board membership and implementing a private-public donation campaign for the next three years.

The top ten reasons to locate in Prowers County were compiled from the online interview as well as focus group surveys and one-on one meetings with stakeholders and municipal leaders over the past eight months of the economic study. They are:  Prowers County is in the middle of Everywhere, identified as Colorado’s most affordable place to live, small town atmosphere, family-friendly, quality education, resourceful and entrepreneurial workforce, looking to bring back the Boomerang age group who left and now indicate a desire to return to live, Health Places community, available incentives and an opportunity to fill business gaps.

Several opportunity areas were highlighted with the most potential for economic prosperity in the county. Each community in the county was provided a list of job and business suggestions ranging from relatively easy, ‘quick wins’ to long term civic investments and a stronger ability to bring the county into economic competition with other markets.

Those listed were:

Processing-manufacturing and distribution which made use of the open spaces of the Plains, a rail line and Highways 287 & 50 to move products across the country.

Agriculture has been facing water availability pressure from the Front Range, the drought impact and a decline in commodity crop prices. Plans will be offered to reduce the loss of jobs and agriculture land and attempt to open new markets through ag research, technology and distribution.

The local retail sector has dwindled over the past thirty years. Research shows a demand for specific retail goods and food services which are being met outside the county.  A separate study indicated the area loses $80M each year through sales leakage.  The recommendations here include the need to fill vacant storefronts, generate job growth and add amenities which will help keep spending local.  This area includes filling gaps in the service sector to help retain recent graduates.

Capitalize on tourism and recreation opportunities to draw visitors to the area. The focus here is on expanding tourism which can support new and existing businesses through retail sales, motels, and gas and restaurant options.  The increase in recreation potential adds to the desirability of Prowers County as a place to live.

Some key themes were developed from the interviews which will be brought into the strategic economic development plan.

Scale Up: A series of strategies that seek to create conditions that will open doors to a diverse range of businesses on a modest scale as opposed to one large employer that would hire several hundred persons.

Leverage Local: Make use of what is already available in the county.  This includes areas of specialized knowledge, a “middle of everywhere” location, local ag production, heritage assets, potential for alternative energy sources and a unique ‘water banking’ system in Colorado.  The nature of the business reduces the changes of relocating as it increases in size.

Next Gen: For some Millennials, the big-city life is losing its appeal.  Part of the plan is seeking opportunities to connect with this age group and encourage them to return to a home town.  Some amenities and an opportunity for not just one, but two careers, can help encourage returns.  The possibility of online employment through a regional employer, while remaining local, is an alternative.

Take Initiative: Solid leadership is required to implement this plan.  Recommendations have been offered on how to create, fund and staff an organization that has the backing of financial institutions and the general community.

The PCDI board will continue to follow these recommendations while conducting a search for an executive director and expand its own membership by three or six new members. Board members will also continue to make contact with the private business sector throughout the county to recruit donors willing to contribute to financing the new venture for at least three years.  PCDI President Rick Robbins and Vice-President, Aaron Leiker, have met with various municipalities and private sector businesses, describing the plans and conducting fund-raising efforts.  To date, approximately $33,000 has been raised, usually through $5,000 contributions for each of the next three years of the PUMA plan.

By Russ Baldwin

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

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