Discovering Craig, Colorado: A City of Growth, Culture, and Community Spirit
Key shifts in infrastructure and economics lay the foundation for prosperity in Craig
For a rural city to expand into an economic powerhouse, pragmatic strategies must intertwine with residential initiatives. Practically speaking, this means the cultivation of robust industrial landscapes that serve a tight-knit community.
Diversification and modernization are the keys to identifying sectors with growth potential. Refined policies and infrastructure investments must then follow in order for a city’s leadership to properly leverage local resources and talents. If done well, a city can carve a niche in emerging industries that stimulate economic expansion.
These are the exact kinds of developments that have been emerging from the scenic rural city of Craig, Colorado. The city’s leadership has simultaneously managed to nurture a sense of belonging that not only enhances the quality of life but also forges a collective civic identity.
Through a well-thought-out blend of accessible public spaces, support for local businesses, community events, and joint ventures with neighboring cities, Craig, Colorado, is creating a regional synergy that benefits everyone.
In essence, this charming rural city embodies the ideal roadmap to success involving a thriving industrial ecosystem and collaborative bridges beyond.
The Cultural Heart of Craig, CO
With roots dating back to its founding in 1908 by Reverend William H. Tucker, at just under 10,000 residents, this Moffat County city’s small-town charm remains a cornerstone of its identity.
Its main appeal involves a unique blend of rich Western heritage, contemporary vision, and genuinely friendly community culture.
When inspected more closely, it’s clear that Craig’s neighborly culture is largely influenced by the signature events and public amenities that are available to people.
Among the events, the most notable is the annual Whittle the Wood Sculpture Competition, in which artists from all over Colorado and beyond come to Craig to carve artistic sculptures out of huge wooden logs.
The competition is one of the city’s largest signature events and draws in an incredibly diverse crowd of attendees, food and game vendors, as well as musical artists.
There is also the annual Moffat County Balloon Festival and the Moffat County Fair, which both tend to be big events for the local restaurants in the area.
However, Craig also has a large lineup of attractions that keep residents and visitors entertained even when there aren’t any big events happening.
City Manager Peter Brixius explains this quite well, saying, “Between the mountains, rivers, hunting, our hospitality industry, skiing, and some of the other natural amenities and recreation, it’s a pretty vibrant area year-round.”
This serves to explain why locals are so warm and welcoming. Its mixture of natural beauty and curated comforts gives Craig the incredible ability to engage the hearts of its residents in a way that other metropolitan areas simply cannot.
And even with this already robust lineup, the city’s leadership still strives to find ways to make use of its natural resources to enhance the overall living experience.
Administrative Assistant to the City Manager Melanie Kilpatrick explains the current vision to achieve this by citing the Yampa River Corridor Project. The project, for which Kilpatrick is also the project manager, aims to repurpose and diversify Craig’s economy through the creation of an integrated river park system.
“We’re looking to outdoor recreation for this particular project,” Kilpatrick begins, “We’ll be enhancing public access to the river [with] new infrastructure. We’re looking to include new boat ramps, parking… upland amenities, picnic shelters, and play areas.”
This is a massive project that has already secured $3.3 million in federal grant support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), as well as additional funding from 13 other partners including Great Outdoors Colorado , Friends of the Yampa and the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable, Yampa River Fund, Moffat County, Trapper Mine, and the Office of Just Transition pledging support in design, engineering, and construction.
The project is scheduled for completion sometime in 2025 and will no doubt add to the city’s already lively culture.
A Major Shift of Industries and Infrastructure
It’s important to note that Craig isn’t just expanding its recreational infrastructure; in fact, each year, city leadership makes great efforts to grow and upgrade the city’s water and sewer systems and improve its zoning arrangements.
However, the recent focus has been a big push on both commercial and residential areas using the newly formed Craig Housing Authority and Craig Urban Renewal Authority to help facilitate the expansion of both available housing and spur economic development.
For example, because affordable housing is a growing concern, the city currently has a 20-unit townhome project underway through the housing authority that has even begun attracting developers for larger complexes with new rental housing.
Craig, Colorado, is also currently making a big change in its energy sector and is in the middle of moving away entirely from using carbon-based energy. Moffat County has a contract for a 1000-acre, 145-megawatt solar farm with Juwi as well as an additional leased 160 acres to support transmission lines that would carry around 3000 megawatts of wind power from Wyoming to larger cities like Las Vegas and parts of Southern California.
While this energy transition is important to note, the larger implication behind it is the driving force behind city leadership’s decision to focus on commercial development. As a new energy source is introduced, the old one must slowly fade out, which is exactly what’s occurring with the city’s coal-fired power plant, as well as the accompanying Trapper Mine.
“With the support of Trapper Mine, and its local partners, the City of Craig has worked extensively with the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado to market the Trapper Mine site as an ideal location for a future heavy Industrial Park”, notes Economic Development Manager, Shannon Scott. “The Trapper Industrial Park is located on an 11,200-acre site with over 85,000 sq. ft. of modern office and industrial space with dedicated utilities, explosion permitting, and uncontrolled airspace.” The city is in discussions with several aviation and aerospace-related companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon that could utilize the Trapper Industrial Park site for their business operations.
Because Craig’s coal plant is one of the region’s largest industries, many other industries must be bolstered to compensate for the inevitable economic dip.
“Once the coal mines and power plant shut down, it is imperative that we recruit new and support existing industries in which the miners and plant workers can easily transition into utilizing their experience and skill sets.” “It is also important that these jobs pay an equitable salary to what they are currently making”, Scott explains.
A Regional Ecosystem of Partnership, Support, and Collaboration
Craig’s leadership is creating a multifaceted solution that includes external as well as internal sources of growth for the city. A number of key partnerships have been secured to ensure that all of its projects have the support needed to come to fruition.
Craig has developed several inter and intra-state engineering vendor relationships that they rely on. Most notably, is the City Engineer, SGM, based in Glenwood Springs and Baseline Engineering, located in Steamboat Springs, who have helped with Craig’s extensive downtown improvement projects.
The City also works closely with Ayres Associates who have helped with the facilitation and implementation of a recently awarded Brownfields grant and Craig’s ongoing housing efforts, as well as Marketing Alliance, a firm that is tasked with promoting Craig as a welcoming and cost-effective place to do business through direct, targeted marketing campaigns and a new Economic Development website: discovercraig.com.
Sunset Engineering out of Vernal, Utah, and Riverwise Engineering out of Durango also support the city, particularly in the areas of the supply chain and the Yampa River Corridor Project. Craig also has many regional partnerships that continue to help financially facilitate and are key contributors to its community development.
Among those names, there is the Moffat County Local Marketing District, the Resources Legacy Fund, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, the Hillsdale Fund, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the EDA, and the Northwest Colorado Chapter of Parrotheads. El Pomar and the Keystone Policy Center have also assisted in many projects and vision planning in support of the City’s key priorities.
Together, these organizations have pledged around $5 million in support of Craig’s various developments. “The vision is for these projects to contribute to economic diversification, vitality, and resiliency here in northwest Colorado. So [it’s] a long list, but these projects wouldn’t be possible without the commitments and funding help from all of these partners,” Kilpatrick says.
Ultimately, Craig is shaping up to be the center point of all of these expansions and collaborations. New industries emerging and old ones transitioning means a new influx of commuters going in and out of the city but also the beginning of what Brixius refers to as a “regional partnership between communities.”
Based on the communications that have been occurring between Craig’s leaders and the Regional Transportation Authority, it’s clear that they are prepared to have the correct infrastructure in place to support the incoming surge.
As Craig undergoes this massive transformation, it’s clear the next 10 years will transform it into a nexus of productivity that its residents can take pride in and that its neighbors can rely on.
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AT A GLANCE
What: undergoing a transformation of infrastructure and industry development poised to strengthen its community and partnerships.
Where: Moffat County, Craig, Colorado