Industries that can thrive anywhere are ideal for growing La Plata County’s economy.
Tech industries, engineering companies and film-production companies are some of the primary employers that can be attracted to Durango because of the air service, local lifestyle and ability to recruit employees from Fort Lewis College and local community colleges, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.
These companies also don’t need the same infrastructure large manufacturers require.
A health-care services company, Integrity Health Plus, when opened in the Durango Tech Center in late 2014, is an example of this kind of professional, primary employer that has a high potential for growth.
“I think it’s a fantastic model for La Plata County,” Zalneraitis said.
As painkiller addiction increases across the United States, doctors are turning to blood and urine tests to make sure their patients are properly using opioids, such as morphine and oxycodone, as prescribed, said Wade Rosenburg, owner of IHP.
Monitoring the use of these painkillers is important because abusing them can lead to heroin addiction.
“Opioids are pharmaceutical-grade heroin,” Rosenburg said.
This testing can be done anywhere and right now Rosenburg operates locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, Austin, Texas, and Durango, which serve doctors in about 45 states.
Once blood or urine samples arrive, the firm’s medical technologists can send back test results within 24 hours. These results specify the level of medication the patient is taking and whether that medication is prescribed or illegal, he said.
“We protect the provider so that they can prescribe responsibly,” Rosenburg said.
The need for this testing has become apparent nationally. The number of prescription-drug overdoses more than tripled between 1999 and 2008, from about 4,000 deaths to 15,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those people who get addicted to opioid painkillers are also 40 times more likely to get addicted to heroin, according to the CDC.
Rosenburg employs 10 people in Durango right now, and the local laboratory processes samples from eight states.
In the next 18 months, he hopes to employ between 50 and 80 people in the lab. Additionally, IHP sees potential for adding medical billing and a surgical center over time, and the business eventually could employ around 200 people locally, he said.
So far, Rosenburg has invested about $1 million renovating the third floor of 10 Burnett Court, where he leases space.
But there is some uncertainty about the future of the company locally because La Plata County may purchase 10 Burnett Court in January.
“If we did pursue purchasing the building, then we would certainly honor any of his leases,” said County Manager Joe Kerby.
IHP has leased space in the building through 2018. But Rosenburg might need to find a new location for his business after that.
He decided to open a new location in Durango because of the quality of life the community offers and the potential to have a positive effect.
“I like the idea of coming into a smaller community and making a bigger impact,” he said.
But finding an alternative location could be challenging because there is a general shortage of large commercial spaces, Zalneraitis said.
Rosenburg publicly asked county officials in June to consider how its long-term use of the building could block tech companies from using the space, and he asked for their help in finding a new location.
The county cannot use taxpayer dollars to assist a private business. But it does support the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance in its efforts to address the shortage of commercial space, Kerby said.
The alliance is doing a feasibility study on building a new business park, and the results should be available in the winter or spring, Zalneraitis said.
At IHP, renovations to house more testing stations are ongoing, but Rosenburg is exploring other locations for his business.
“My ambition is to create jobs. I can do that here, or I can do that somewhere else,” he said.