Affordable housing, adequate internet services and the fairness of sales tax collection are among priorities that local business leaders hope to collectively address in an effort to boost Durango’s economy.
A panel explored solutions to major economic development challenges at a forum hosted by La Plata County on Friday, where the audience was invited to answer questions such as: “What can we do to promote economic development?” and “What are your business needs?”
In the near future, attendees will be asked to vote on suggested action items to pursue, and then the best organization or groups will be identified to work on the solutions, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata Economic Development Alliance, who moderated the event. There also may be broader community conversations with stakeholders.
Among the most talked about topics were:
Building an arts and events center downtown to bolster tourism and make sure Durango can compete with other Colorado destinations.Expanding internet service to help people who want to move to the area and work from home. A map showing the gaps in internet infrastructure could be a first step toward improving internet access, said Gary Derck, a panelist, former CEO of Purgatory and owner of Mountainsprings, a consulting company.Improving the county planning process so that it would inform builders in a few months whether a project could be completed. Panelist Brian Kimmel, president of Southwest Land Services, said there could be better education about the benefits of land-use zoning and how it could add value to property in the county.Providing affordable housing for employees. Businesses could help address the need for workforce housing if they could contribute to funds that would provide mortgage assistance for employees, Derck said. “If you help someone get a house, they are with you for a long, long, long time,” he said. Once the house is sold, the mortgage assistance comes back into the fund and can be used to buy another house, he said.Laura Lewis Marchino, executive director of Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, said small businesses need support for the area to thrive economically.
“You never want to forget your economic base is your small businesses that will grow up to be big businesses,” she said.
One of the threats to small retailers and the sales tax base for local governments is online shopping.
Online retailers, such as Amazon, do not pay city and county sales taxes, and it gives them an unfair advantage over small stores. It also cuts into tax revenue that the city and county would use to pay for infrastructure projects.
City Councilor Sweetie Marbury called on the crowd to contact federal legislators to advocate for a different policy.
Panelists also identified economic strengths such as the steady growth in tourism, plentiful public lands that attract people because of the quality of life and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Growth Fund, which has diversified its business holdings from coast to coast, said Pat Vaughn of the Growth Fund. The tribe’s investments in other areas support many employees in La Plata County, he said.
“There is an economic driver here that nobody talks about, and that’s the tribe,” he said.