Roger Zalneraitis, who has led the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance for eight years, has accepted an offer to become economic development manager for the Permanent Fund of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
“I’ve been with the alliance for eight years, and the average stay in an economic development job is five years, so it’s not a sudden move,” Zalneraitis said. “I’ve never been a big believer in staying too long in a position. It will provide me with new challenges and opportunities and it’s good for the alliance. They can find someone who can approach the job with fresh eyes.”
Zalneraitis said efforts to create a relocation program to attract primary employers – principally office operations such as boutique software, engineering and financial firms – to La Plata County and an effort to create an inventory of available land and office space for firms interested in moving here were major accomplishments during his tenure.
Increasing cooperation with municipal planners is also paying off, Zalneraitis said. He expects additional space for business relocation to become available in 2019 and thereafter because of cooperative work between the town of Bayfield and the alliance.
Providing more stable, streamlined and efficient land-use planning for businesses and addressing affordable housing needs in La Plata County, Zalneraitis said, are keys locally to unlocking economic prosperity and diversity.
Zalneraitis said zoning, at least in certain portions of the county, would provide stability for firms looking to relocate.
“It’s more efficient for firms and it helps with infrastructure planning,” he said.
Providing housing affordable to the workforce is another critical need.
“It’s hard to keep a stable workforce when someone gets a job offer at the same salary, but where the housing costs are 60 percent of what they are here,” Zalneraitis said. “It goes beyond economic development. You lose some vitality as a community when you have houses that are affordable only as retirement homes or second homes.”
La Plata County Economic Development Alliance will tap into a database of 5,000 economic development professionals operated by the National Rural Economic Developers Association in search of a permanent replacement.
Dye said the alliance is especially looking at economic developers who have experience working across state lines and regionally.
He noted Four Corners Economic Development in Farmington is also looking for an executive director, and it is an opportune time to increase collaboration and communication among all regional economic development groups.
“We’re in the same boat, so the timing feels right to find synergies that we can work on together to achieve,” Dye said.
“We’re never going to be able to attract a manufacturing facility that needs 20,000 square feet in La Plata County, but in Aztec, Bloomfield, Cortez, Bayfield, and Ignacio, they have those facilities, and the executives are attracted to Durango.”