Trisha Herman

Tom Johnson

PCED meeting covers county growth, hemp development

    Phillips County Economic Development brought the county’s economic influencers together at Paoli Town Hall for an annual meeting last Monday, April 29, to report on their successes and address some of the challenges currently facing the county.
    PCED executive director Trisha Herman led the meeting and reported on her organization’s achievements in the past year. PCED applied for and received a Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant to fund a housing assessment, which will quantify the housing shortage in the county and allow it to apply for federal housing funds. It is being matched by funds from several local entities.
    “The housing assessment is one of the things that I’ve had the most discussion about,” she said. “That’s a huge project that we’ve been working on, and we’re looking forward to seeing movement on that.”
    She said recruiting new businesses and promoting youth development with internship programs like the Ogallala Commons internship are all ways in which PCED is building a foundation for growth in the county.
    “Keeping our streets lit up at night is definitely our main goal,” she said.
    She and county commissioner Terry Hofmeister also mentioned the opening of the Bank of Colorado Pavilion as a major achievement and attraction in the county.
    
Johnson talks strategies for rural recruitment, hemp production
    Colorado State University affiliate Tom Johnson gave a wide-reaching presentation Monday night about economic development and the barriers to development in rural Colorado — population loss, lack of markets and cost of living, to name a few.
    Hemp was also mentioned as a possible money-maker for the county, even as Johnson compared the market to a “gold rush,” with a bust to potentially follow the current boom.
    Johnson said the benefits of population growth and new economic opportunities in Colorado have missed the Eastern Plains and rural counties like Phillips. According to CSU data, between 2001 and 2018, the state’s population grew by 29%, while northeast Colorado gained just 2% and the county lost 4%.
    “Prosperity in Colorado hasn’t exactly gotten into the Eastern Plains as much as we’d like,” he said. “And this is happening everywhere out here; it’s not just Phillips County.”
    The biggest employers on the plains remain government and agriculture, with ag contributing $850 million in earnings and $130 million in taxes to the local ecconomy, according to a CSU model.
    One option for battling the challenges facing rural Colorado is recruitment. But Johnson said recruiting big business to the area isn’t the fix that some economic development organizations hope for.

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