Options for economic development discussed at AGNC summit

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RBC | The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC) held its fourth annual Regional Economic Development Summit in Rangely earlier this month. Keynote speaker Jonathan Leibert from of the Colorado Institute for Social Impact in Colorado Springs focused on the rise of the Fourth Sector—business entities that strive to do good as well as turn profits—in our economic lives.

Bonnie Peterson, executive director of AGNC and the lead for the Northwest Colorado Enterprise Zone, mentioned to the Herald Times, “Businesses in our region need to look at what they are doing and identify [their] social benefit in order to be competitive with regard to the attraction/retention of employees as well as maintaining/increasing their market share. This conversation at our Summit was meant to help our businesses think strategically about their future as the ‘fourth sector’ becomes more prevalent in the business world. We hope the attendees found the discussion enlightening and helpful.”

Another focus of the meeting, presented by Jana Persky, strategic initiatives manager at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), were the “opportunity zones” created by the passage of the tax bill by Congress last December. OEDIT is developing a website that local communities can use to provide information about the opportunity zones in their areas and they have developed a template for potential investors. AGNC suggests that it may make sense to do this regionally as there are seven zones within Garfield, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. There are seven zones within Mesa County alone and the Grand Junction Economic Partnership (GJEP) is well on the way to developing its own prospectus and marketing to potential investors. There is less capacity in the other counties of the region and we want to be sure that they can compete for those investment dollars as the opportunity zone funds are created and begin looking for projects.

Further information on the description of these opportunity zones with maps of their locations can be found at https://choosecolorado.com/opportunity-zones/.

Mike Blakeman, CEO of Visual Globe, talked about the merger of technology and data to assist local governments and businesses in the identification and inventory of assets. His company—one of the rural jump start companies working in Mesa County—utilizes technology to capture and map underground assets as well as buildings through digital imaging. It is difficult for entities to know exactly what their assets are but through this digital imaging technology, they can be captured and managed. Visual Globe is working with Intel Corporation to develop some model areas that will demonstrate the capabilities and uses of this technology. It is anticipated that if a community partners with Visual Globe to establish these models, it will set those communities apart from others and result in the attraction of others who wish to see how the technology works. Blakeman can be reached at mblakeman@visual-globe.com.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association was the presenting sponsor for the Summit. Senior external affairs advisor, Drew Kramer, who offices in Westminster, told the assembled group of some 50 individuals in Rangely that Tri-State is working toward making better social efforts, thus sponsoring events like the summit. Their hope, he said, is to help communities in their service area be more successful, have more economic activity, and thus, use more electricity.

Deana Sheriff, executive director of the West End (Montrose County) Economic Development Corporation located in Naturita, Colo., made a presentation on the efforts being made there (Montrose and Delta Counties are associate members of AGNC). The “West End” is home to communities that have historically been economically dependent on natural resource extraction and development. Most recently, their Tri-State coal-fired power plant and the coal mine are slated to close as a result of a lawsuit settlement and coal economics which presents a huge economic threat to the area. Sheriff has worked with the communities since April 2017 to assess their assets, their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. They have identified ways to assist communities in focusing on new opportunities and economic strategies. “The key is economic diversity,” Sheriff said, “to come out the other side stronger and more resilient.”

They applied for, and received, a three-year grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to hire an economic development director and implement their plan. They have already shown success with new business startups and are addressing a number of cleanup efforts in the communities. The EDA funding came from the “Coal Impacted Communities” grant fund offered in 2018. Since many NW Colorado communities are coal impacted communities, AGNC is working on a collaborative effort to apply for funding in the next year if EDA offers another grant opportunity.

One serendipitous story Sheriff told that relates to “homegrown prosperity” and local gumption was the discovery that there are, leftover from the early homestead days in western Montrose County, 340 varieties of heritage apples—and like here, the apple trees were very productive this year. They’ve also discovered amaranth and heritage wheat varieties. These sorts of assets have played into the Business Diversity and Action Plan the economic development group developed and published last March.

Their plan sets forth specific targeted goals, some of which are already accomplishing, including the expansion and renovation of their local airport, creation of a fresh food hub, marketing to Telluride, Montrose and Moab, Utah, a natural riverwalk along the San Miguel River, an $800,000 new rodeo arena in Nucla funded in part by Great Outdoors Colorado, a daycare center funded with help from Tri-State, and the expansion of the shooting range in Nucla with $55,000 from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. They are also advancing Main Street Colorado programs in Nucla and Naturita, and have opened a brew pub. Sheriff’s bottom-line suggestion is, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

For the last part of the Summit, Sallie Clark, appointed a year ago by President Donald Trump to be the Colorado Director for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, provided an overview of the many programs available through USDA in support of businesses, communities, infrastructure and individuals. The programs range from low interest loans to grants for affordable housing to business startups and broadband deployment. There are six USDA locations throughout the state supporting rural development and those in NW Colorado are encouraged to utilize those resources and take advantage of the opportunities available through USDA Rural Development. Clark herself is a former El Paso County commissioner.

Details about the various USDA Rural Development programs can be found online at www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services. Rio Blanco County is served out of Delta where field office specialist David Carter can also be reached at 970-399-8195 or Dave.Carter@co.usda.gov.

AGNC chair and Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck is quick to give exceptional credit to Peterson for organizing and running these AGNC community outreach events. In addition to Tri-State, other Summit sponsors were ANB Bank, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, Colorado Department of Local Affairs and Colorado Northwestern Community College.


By REED KELLEY | reed@ht1885.com