EDITORIAL: Saving Ourselves, Part Three

Read Part One

Tuesday morning’s joint meeting, between the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners and the Pagosa Springs Town Council, featured an informational presentation by Laura Lewis Marchino, the new director of Region 9 Economic Development District.

Region 9 Director Laura Lewis Marchino, at table, center, prepares to address a joint government meeting in Pagosa Springs, March 14, 2017.

Region 9 is a 501c3 non-profit “public private partnership” that promotes and coordinates community development efforts throughout southwest Colorado, covering five counties, ten municipalities, and two Indian tribes. It was incorporated in 1989 and is led by a 26-member board of directors.

Ms. Lewis Marchino had brought a stack of folder hand-outs containing useful information about the various programs supported by, or initiated by, Region 9 over the past few years. One document summarized a few of the “economic” activities that relate to Archuleta County in particular, including an “Enterprise Zone” tax credit program offered by the state of Colorado which has — over the past 25 years — resulted in about $3 million in “certified tax credits” for Archuleta County businesses, and the creation of 1,482 jobs. That’s according to Region 9’s 2016 Archuleta County Performance Report.

“In 2016, 223 jobs were created by the 41 participating businesses, claiming $643,587 in tax credits.”

We might note that “1,482 jobs” is equivalent to approximately one-quarter (25 percent) of all the jobs that currently exist in Archuleta County. (About 5,900 jobs, including full- and part-time jobs, according to a separate Region 9 report.) But the fact that a “job” was once created, during the past 25 years, doesn’t mean the job still exists.

Archuleta County had about 500 employing establishments in 2001 (Bureau of Labor Standards) and the number had grown to about 630 establishments by 2007. Since 2007, the number has declined to about 540 employing establishments.

Two programs described by Ms. Lewis Marchino seemed a good fit for the theme of this article, which is, “Can a small rural community in Colorado solve its own problems, without too much reliance on Denver and Washington?”

Ms. Lewis Marchino discussed Colorado’s “Rural Jump-Start Program,” a program that provides tax relief to New Businesses and New Hires of these businesses, located in certain economically distressed areas of rural Colorado. She noted that the metropolitan areas along Colorado’s Front Range are fairly thriving, economically, at the moment… while the rural areas of the state continue to struggle. Denver legislators made an attempt to address that “achievement gap” in 2015 through Senate Bill 15-282.

Archuleta County is one of those “economically distressed areas.”

Me. Lewis Marchino described the program as an attempt to entice outside businesses to re-locate to distressed rural communities, but the program also appears to be available to start-ups, new joint ventures between existing companies, and “new divisions” of existing Colorado companies. The program requires the participation of a “Designated Institute of Higher Education” (DIHE) — which would probably be Durango’s Fort Lewis College, in the case of Archuleta County.

The jobs created by the program must pay more than the median wage in the community. The “enticements” appear to consist mainly of tax breaks for the New Business, as well as any assistance provided by the DIHE. You can download the Jump-Start program manual here.

The other program that caught my attention is the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs, better known as “SCAPE.”

From the SCAPE website:

The core of the SCAPE Program is an intensive 6-month program which will teach you the science of startups. You will learn customer oriented product development, product marketing operations and finance from experienced executive experts. Special learning opportunities will match the startups with entrepreneurs from the community who will visit SCAPE to share their experiences and knowhow.

The selected entrepreneurs for the SCAPE Program are housed in a “business incubator” facility in Durango. They can benefit from a “seed money” equity investment of up to $30,000 — basically, enough to fund perhaps one person’s salary for one year.

The start-ups that have applied to participate in the SCAPE program, thus far, have come almost exclusively from Durango and La Plata County. Ms. Lewis Marchino stated that Region 9 and SCAPE are hoping to eventually attract participation from the other four counties in the region.

At one point, in the not-too-distant past, I heard talk about the establishment of a similar “business incubator” here in Archuleta County, but the discussions never got beyond the realm of “wouldn’t it be a good idea if…”  The so-called business development that’s taken place in Pagosa Springs over the past decade has been led by one particularly prominent flagship: Walmart. The claims made back in 2012 by then-Town Manager David Mitchem, during his efforts to woo the Walmart corporation, included a promise of 200 new jobs.

Not exactly “high paying jobs,” however. And not exactly a “local start-up.”

Are there “local” ways to create good-paying jobs in Archuleta County?

And more importantly, is that our highest possible goal, for our community? Because some people seem to think it is.

Read Part Four…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.