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What is new business worth to Bayfield?
9/6/2012 By: Carole McWilliams
Economic development was the focus at the Aug. 21 Bayfield Town Board meeting.
Town Manager Chris La May raised the issue. What can the town potentially offer to attract and keep businesses, he asked. How much is the town board willing to do?
“Often we become reactionary when someone asks what we can offer,” he said. “Should we have some tools in place for when that question comes up?”
Property tax rebates are one option, he said, but property taxes are very low here compared to other places, so a rebate wouldn’t be worth a lot.
“But it may send a message. Maybe it gets their foot in the door so we can talk about quality of life and the schools,” La May said.
Another possible incentive is for the town to buy some land and offer to lease it at a very low cost to a business, with the idea that property and sales tax revenue from the business will pay for the deal in the long run, he said.
Mayor Rick Smith wants to get town business people and residents together to talk about what they want the town to be.
“How do we brand our town?” he asked. “Durango has branded itself. Do we want to be a bedroom community to Durango, or do we want to be something different? What do we want to be known as?”
Smith continued, “The board has said we want to be a family community. How do we build on that? People say Bayfield is one of the best places to be on the Fourth of July. How do we build on that?”
Sales tax is the town’s main income, so how does the town encourage businesses to come? Smith asked.
Trustee Debbi Renfro commented that all those things were considered in meetings several years ago.
Trustee Ed Morlan, who is executive director of the Region 9 Economic Development District, said, “Incentives won’t make a difference. Having clear regulations and being prepared.”
Trustee Tom Au agreed. “It’s what I hear all the time. The regulations and trying to get through (the permit process) are a pain. They take too long and cost too much.”
Renfro said, “I see both sides. There are places (in the process) where you ask for too much information and some places where you don’t ask for enough. You’ve got things backwards.”
On community branding, Smith said, “You go into a bank on Friday, any bank, all the clerks have the same sweater vest with their logo. Why can’t we do that?” He pointed at the wood mosaic town logo on the wall behind him.
“Capitalize on what people in the past have done and build on it,” he said.
At Smith’s request, the board set a work session for Sept. 25 to deal solely with economic development issues. Chamber of Commerce and other business representatives will be urged to participate.
Also on Aug. 21, La Plata Economic Development Alliance executive director Roger Zalneraitis said his group’s focus is businesses that produce goods or services that are sold outside the county and bring new money into the local economy.
“We are trying to have a better presence in Bayfield and Ignacio,” to promote business development around the county, not just in or near Durango, he said.
The alliance’s 2012 plan focuses on retention and expansion of existing businesses, business recruitment, reducing barriers to business success, and reduction of sales tax leakage, e.g. when locals go to Farmington to shop.
Zalneraitis said when he started in his job in March 2011, most feedback was to focus on existing businesses.
“We are dong outreach visits, trying to contact 60 to 70 businesses this summer,” he said. That included contacting five businesses in Bayfield, but two haven’t responded back.
The goal of these contacts is to find out more about the businesses and what helps or hinders their success, Zalneraitis said.
“The private sector drives a lot of what we do,” he said. Small business owners considering moving here have lots of questions, such as schools, elder care, taxes, regulations, and availability of employees with the required skills.
“We want to promote local businesses to the outside world,” he said. “This helps with recruitment too.”
The alliance is compiling a list of existing businesses that provide a product or service that is sold elsewhere. “We have over five dozen companies that produce something. This is retention and recruitment at the same time,” he said.
The Southern Ute Growth Fund just gave the go-ahead to produce five quality of life videos that will promote the county as a business location, he said. They will include all three towns.
That will include mention of much lower cost of living in Bayfield than in Durango, and the schools.
Renfro said she and her family “could have lived in Durango easily. We picked Bayfield because of the schools.”