OURAY – In 2008, the City of Ouray’s Community Development Committee formulated a comprehensive plan, inspired by a positive community-based vision, to steer Ouray’’s economy toward the far-off year of 2020.
Rick Noll, the City of Ouray’s staff liaison to the CDC, has helped track the so-called 2020 Economic Development Plan from its inception to the present, and reported at a community meeting last Wednesday, Nov. 20 that many of the goals set out in the original plan have been achieved, while others have proved unrealistic and must now be revised. Still other goals have recently been added to the plan by the CDC, so that it can continue to be a relevant document guiding the City of Ouray forward for the next seven years.
The 2020 Economic Development Plan offers a sector-by-sector breakdown of the economic clusters that make Ouray tick – including traditional tourism, arts and culture tourism, heritage tourism, adventure tourism, conferences and events, entrepreneurship and innovation, well-being, housing, education, renewable energy, and residential products and services – and offers strategies and goals related to each cluster.
The tourism sector has enjoyed particular success in attaining goals set out in the original 2020 plan.
Since 2008, the number of room-nights in Ouray lodging establishments has grown by three percent annually; annual sales tax revenues have grown by 6.5 percent as measured in a three-year rolling average; new events that celebrate the heritage of Ouray have been added to Ouray’s busy summer schedule; and outdoor adventure opportunities have significantly expanded, with the addition of events like the Ouray Canyoning Festival, and Kids Climbing College.
In the Arts and Culture tourism cluster, the goal of “ensuring that a significant art event occurs every week of the year” has been achieved with such smashing success that, as CDC member and Friends of the Wright Opera House chair Dee Williams joked, “The problem is now ensuring there is only one significant art event each week.”
With so many of these original goals having been achieved, a variety of new goals have recently been set for the tourism sector. As spelled out by Ouray Chamber Resort Association Operations Director and CDC member Kat Papenbrock, new goals include increasing tourism marketing grants, and working with regional partners on regional marketing to make those dollars go farther; increasing the number of room nights by 3 percent in shoulder seasons; realizing the growth potential of the winter season; creating an up-to-date Hot Springs Pool facility to include family friendly additions; and conducting an economic impact survey with the cooperation of a representative group of lodgers and retailers to begin to get an idea of the demographics of Ouray’s visitors throughout the year.
“That’s really going to help us decide whether our marketing dollars are spent in the right place,” Papenbrock explained. “We know who’s looking at us, but we are not sure who’s here all the time.”
In the Heritage Tourism cluster, an important new goal spelled out by Papenbrock has to do with the market appeal of Ouray’s nearby ghost towns. Through the Internet tracking tool Internet Honey, OCRA has discovered “a surprise thing,” Papenbrock said. “The three pillars of Ouray’s tourist appeal have always been its hot springs, the Ouray Ice Park and jeeping, but ghost towns are equal with all of those; it’s an easy value-added thing, and we have been trying to capitalize on it over the past year.”
Ouray has seen some big changes in its entrepreneurship and innovation sector since the original 2020 Plan was drafted, particularly in regard to the comeback of mining and related support businesses – although the layoffs at the Camp Bird Mine earlier this year, followed by last week’s deadly accident at the Revenue-Virginius Mine, have created some uncertainty as to whether the comeback will be sustainable.
Moving forward, Noll said, the CDC wants to continue to focus on diversifying Ouray’s economic base by attracting and creating new entrepreneurial opportunities. “But we don’t want to be losing businesses, either,” he said. So, a new goal has been added to the 2020 Plan, related to the retention of existing businesses and services, and the prevention of so-called “leakage” of local dollars to other markets.
The CDC has also set new goals related to the reduction of the number of dormant spaces in the commercial business district, and increasing the availability and viability of commercial/industrial spaces in Ouray.
While there are many success stories to be found in the 2020 Plan as it has unfolded thus far, there is also one notable stumbling block, related to the retention of a medical clinic in Ouray.
Ouray Family Medicine practitioners David and Shirley Olson attended last Wednesday’s meeting, to announce that they will be closing their Ouray clinic by the end of December “unless some miracle descends from heaven.”
“Ouray is simply too small to support a medical practice unless it is the center of care for the county,” they explained.
Mayor Pam Larson thanked them for trying.
Overall, in spite of Ouray Family Medicine’s imminent closure, most of the community members who attended last Wednesday’s meeting agreed that the City of Ouray’s 2020 Economic Development Plan has been a quite a success story, illustrating what can happen when a small group of people sets a number of goals for their community, and maintains a laser-like focus on them until they are achieved.
Some wondered why the same level of attention, commitment and follow-through has not been applied to the City of Ouray’s Parks Master Plan, adopted by the Ouray City Council in 2010. “My frustration is that every two years, you get a new mayor, and a new council, and not a damn thing gets done,” said Ouray resident Charlie Berger. “The City of Ouray does not know how to lock anything down.”
A digital copy of the original City of Ouray 2020 Economic Development Plan is available for download at cityofouray.com/docs/CDC/EDP-FINAL.pdf.
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