ALAMOSA— Adams State University hosted the first San Luis Valley Economic Summit Aug. 3, bringing together more than 100 representatives of economic development, business, and government entities from across the valley.
Adams State President Beverlee J. McClure explained the summit arose from efforts of a volunteer group that is focused on economic development. “We began to talk about the need to share the positive activities and services already in place that can help us as we move forward to support the valley. We want to encourage business and job growth. We don’t want the valley’s biggest export to be our children and our talent.”
In addition to McClure, the summit organizing group includes Marty & Bonnie Asplin of URGED (Upper Rio Grande Economic Development); Larry Zaragoza, mayor of La Jara; Gigi Dennis, Alamosa County executive; Azarel Madrigal with the city of Monte Vista; Randy Wright, director of the Alamosa County Chamber of Commerce; Jeff Owsley, director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Tom Acre, South Fork town manager. The SLV Economic Summit was sponsored by Adams State University, the SBDC, SLV Rural Electric Cooperative and Ciello, URGED and the City of Monte Vista.
The day opened with brief presentations on the various services, programs and initiatives to support economic development that are currently underway in the Valley. It concluded with roundtables at which participants identified service gaps and needs and how to address those issue to further economic development. Some of those needs include affordable housing, public transportation, an inventory of available properties for business development, a workforce study, and entrepreneurship support.
The group heard from keynote speaker J.J. Ament, CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, who emphasized the value of forging connections between urban and rural areas of the state. “Unless we’re working all together and promoting the state as a whole, we won’t be successful. We need to be partners on economic development to increase primary jobs and expand business opportunities.” He said it is particularly important for rural communities to collaborate as a whole, rather than compete amongst themselves. “One advantage of regional and small businesses is that they retain the uniqueness of their communities.” He added that small businesses and entrepreneurs are critical to economic development. “They create innovations others have not discovered yet. They provide employment and that creates a talent pipeline for business development. The valley has a huge resource in Adams State University to do that. We need to be aware of institutions of higher education and K-12 to make sure we are educating students that can be employed in the free enterprise system.”
He also discussed the advantages Colorado has in attracting new businesses and employers. Those include a highly educated workforce and factors that make it easy to do business in Colorado, such as air service that can take people from DIA to anywhere in the country in four hours. “Colorado is also one of the places people want to be. Every business is recruiting talent. They need to recruit locally, as well as attract people to relocate here.”
His organization focuses on areas where Colorado has a competitive advantage. These industry clusters include aerospace, aviation, beverage production, bioscience, broadcasting and telecommunications, energy, financial services, healthcare and wellness, and IT software. “We need to build connectivity between these industry clusters and rural Colorado.”
The summit also included a special presentation by Mark Falcone, CEO and founder of Continuum Partners. The development group works to create human habitats of extraordinary character and enduring value that are both economically viable and ecologically sustainable. His group has purchased the former Frontier Drive-In property in Center, Colo., and plans to develop it as a food, film, and art retreat. The plan is to begin construction next spring and have programming in place by the end of summer 2018.
His vision for the location is to provide artist residencies, workshops, and public programming such as exhibits, lectures, film screenings, and music performances. “We want to explore opportunities and places where people can feel better connected to the essence of humanity – something that urban life and our digitized world detaches them from.”
Participating organizations that presented on their services included the following: SBDC, URGED: Upper Rio Grande Economic Development, ACEDC: Alamosa County Economic Development Corporation, ScSEED: Saguache County Sustainable Environment & Economic Development, DRF/COG: Development Resources Group/Council of Governments, CCEDC: Costilla County Economic Development Council, ASU Community Partnerships/Business Services, Alamosa Chamber of Commerce, Valley Initiative Partners (VIP), Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), USDA Rural Development, CDFI: Community Development Financial Institutes – First Southwest Bank, Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), Colorado Workforce, Trinidad State Junior College, Sector Partnerships in healthcare and value-added agriculture, Industrial Hemp, Proximity Malt and Three Barrel Brewing.