By James H. Pickering
Chair, Board of Directors, Estes Park EDC
At its October 20th Annual Meeting the Estes Park Economic Development Corporation(Estes Park EDC) elected a slate of officers and began its fourth year of operation—a moment of new beginnings, but also a time to pause, look back, and reflect.
The Estes Park EDC was created after fifteen months of concentrated study, discussion, and focused outreach by the Estes Valley Economic Development Taskforce, a group of local residents who came together under the sponsorship of Estes Valley Partners for Commerce as the result of several years of community discussion about how best to begin to address the economic challenges facing Estes Park. Particularly disturbing was the decade-long loss of 28% of our 35-44 year-old population, an essential component of the workforce of any community, one that includes many of our most essential service-providers. Their loss, which 2013 demographics suggest is a continuing one now exceeding 40%, poses a distinct threat not only to our workforce but to our public schools and to the hope that Estes Park can continue to be a vibrant multi-generational year-round community.
No small part of the challenge, the Taskforce understood, was attitudinal. In February 2013 Downtown Colorado, Inc., a well-regarded state-wide nonprofit organization, conducted a two-day site visit to Estes Park to meet with groups of residents concerning downtown revitalization. In DCI’s 48-page Community Assessment released that August two observations stood out boldly: “Most successful community initiatives seem to be in opposition to something” and “Estes Park has a history of organizing and saying no to things.”
In August of 2013 the Estes Park EDC incorporated and held its first organizational meeting. Then came the floods of September 2013. Their aftermath posed new and totally unexpected challenges. They also offered, as natural catastrophes often do, new opportunities to serve the community.
During its months of study and preparation, the Taskforce made it a point to reach out and engage economic development leaders throughout the state and region. On one thing there was virtual unanimity: we were told that continuing local financial support would inevitably depended upon our ability to demonstrate a positive return on the investment of our members—that we must be able to demonstrate that their dollars, both public and private, were being positively leveraged on behalf of the community. This message is one that the Estes Park EDC has taken very much to heart.
We were also told that both public and private sector engagement was essential, which is why we recommended, as the preferred business model, the formation of a nonprofit corporation rather then asking the Town or Visit Estes Park to form and fully fund a new department.
During the three years of the Estes Park EDC’s existence such leveraging has in fact taken place. Economic leveraging within any community, it should be noted, takes two forms: it is both direct and indirect. While some positive outcomes are easier to measure than others, here in Estes Park we have seen examples of both.
DIRECT LEVERAGING: Thanks to efforts of the Estes Park EDC, over the past three years, the Town Estes Park and local business owners have been the recipients of nearly $4 million dollars in direct grant support. Two examples stand out.
The first is the Estes Park EDC’s direct role in helping local businesses recover from the unprecedented flooding of September 2013. Making use of a $39,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado, we hired and provided office space for a full-time Business Recovery Coordinator. Through this effort the Estes Park EDC helped more than 58 local businesses secure some $2.2 million dollars in flood recover grants (45% of the state-wide total at the time), helping retain 283 full-time and 449 part-time jobs. State recovery officials have recognized our local outreach to both businesses and regional and state recovery organizations as a model for serving business disaster recovery needs. We continue to partner with the Larimer County Small Business Development Center to ensure that local businesses know about these grant opportunities. Such a partnership is particularly important with the closure of Highway 34, which directly threatens businesses located up and down the Big Thompson Canyon.
The second example of successful leveraging came from the $300,000 grant awarded in 2014 to the Town and the Estes Park EDC from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce. That grant funded three distinct but interrelated projects: (1) a plan to maximize the Town’s existing fiber optic assets and build a robust broadband system for the Estes Valley to support the ever-increasing needs of local businesses and residents as well as the demands of our visitors; (2) a long-range strategic plan for developing the economy of the Estes Valley through the attraction of appropriate cluster industries; and (3) a plan for encouraging local entrepreneurship by creating a self-sustaining business incubator. All three of these planning projects are now complete.
The July 2015 Report by NEO Fiber of Carbondale (Estes Park Broadband Expansion and Technical Assistance Strategy Report) provided the necessary informational and technical support for the $1,372,000 grant received by the Town of Estes Park in April 2016 from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) to pay for the detailed engineering design study required for a proposed municipal broadband utility system. As Town Administrator Frank Lancaster noted, at the time “This is the final, critical piece for the Town Board to make an informed decision on how to provide high speed broadband access to businesses and residents of the Estes Park Light and Power service area”— a service area that includes both Glen Haven and Allenspark.
In February 2015, voters approved a ballot measure by more than 92% to remove the restrictions imposed by Colorado law with respect to the Town’s ability to make direct or indirect use of its existing fiber optics network to the benefit of the residents of the Estes Valley. The effort to secure voter approval was facilitated by the Estes Park EDC’s Broadband Committee, chaired by David Batey, a committee that continues to meet on a regular basis with Town officials.
Though direct leveraging does not always produce immediate dollars, such leveraging is also evident with respect to the Business Incubator Project. In 2016 the Estes Park EDC Business Incubator Committee worked closely with ATP Management of Austin, Texas to produce a business plan for fostering entrepreneurship. During the coming year, we will launch the Entrepreneur Center at the Estes Park EDC. One component will be partnering with the Innosphere of Fort Collins, Colorado’s leading technology incubator. Activities surrounding the Incubator planning process resulted in the creation of Estes Park Startup Meetup by Committee member Josh Cramer. The group meets the first Wednesday of each month at Via Bicycle Café from 8 to 9 am to exchange information among local entrepreneurs, investors and mentors. In addition, Committee member Gary Clark has formed and is leading the Estes Park Angel Investor group, which has already hosted two pitch sessions for Colorado startup companies.
INDIRECT LEVERAGING: Though indirect leveraging of dollars is somewhat harder to document, several significant efforts to improve economic activity in the Estes Valley have been aided by Estes Park EDC efforts.
The Estes Park EDC’s two areas of emphasis are business attraction and business retention—in both instances with an emphasis on primary jobs: on businesses that sell products or services to customers outside the community.
Attracting year-round businesses that are appropriate to the Estes Park community’s values and geography is, of course, a key part of diversifying the local economy. To that end, on December 12, 2013, at one of its earliest meetings, Estes Park EDC formally adopted a series of ten criteria or factors, originally developed by professionals for the City of Greeley, to be use in determining whether or not a proposed new business project merited Estes Park EDC support as a priority. Using these criteria Estes Park EDC to date has supported four specific economic development projects, all of which have now had a positive impact upon our local economy or give promise of doing so. This support took the form of “white papers”—authoritative reports authored by EDC President/CEO Jon Nicholas. In one instance, as noted below, the white paper was reinforced by an independent third-party analysis, paid for by Estes Park EDC, from a respected regional economic authority.
These economic analysis reports were as follows:
1. March 12, 2014: Economic Impact of the EPMC/Anschutz Wellness Center at the Stanley Hotel upon the Estes Park Area. This document was supported by a second report authored by Professor Martin Shields, Director of the Regional Economic Institute at Colorado State University in conjunction with Summit Data Analytics. Both reports were made public during the run up to the affirmative vote in the April 2014 election to sell Town-owned Lot 4 in the Stanley Historic District for the purpose of building the Wellness Center. This sale immediately brought the Town $1 million dollars, funds badly needed at the time to help pay for post-flood repair projects. It was projected that the Center when completed would have a $4 million positive impact on the Town’s sales tax revenues in the first five years.
2. May 12, 2104: Sector Analysis: Microbreweries, Micro-wineries, and Micro-distilleries. This white paper, published during the period when the Town of Estes Park was considering code revisions that would allow microbreweries, micro-wineries, and micro-distilleries to operate in the Estes Valley, explored the growth of these industries in Colorado, their economic value as tourist destinations, and their positive role as catalysts for economic redevelopment. The subsequent opening of three new craft businesses in 2015-2016, all in redeveloped spaces, attests to the timeliness and value of this EDC report.
3. September 9, 2015: Economic Impact of the Stanley Hotel Auditorium and Film Center upon the Estes Park Region. This report was produced during the period that the Stanley Film Center project was being considered as part of a larger Go NoCO Regional Tourism Act (RTA) application for state sales tax increment State financing to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). Independent, third-party analysts estimated that the 43,000 square foot Center could attract more than 423,000 out-of-town guests per year and generate $189 million in new revenue. Estes Park EDC testified in support of this project and the Colorado Economic Development Commission approved the GO NoCO application in November 2015. It included over $11 million in tax increment financing for the estimated $24 million facility.
4. October 9, 2015. Economic Impact of Proposed Public Recreation Center on the Estes Valley. Through a program of the Economic Development Council of Colorado, Estes Park EDC obtained an economic report prepared by Colorado economist Gary Horvath, which projected that the proposed Community Center will generate 30 full-time equivalent jobs and will result in projected economic output of $2 million per year by 2018. The report also provided a summary of research on the positive impacts that recreation and park facilities have upon the quality of life in their communities and the impact such amenities have on families and on residents in general.
These reports, together with other useful information, are available on the Estes Park EDC’s new user-friendly website: http://www.estesparkedc.com
One should also mention Estes Park EDC’s supporting role in establishing, as of January 1, 2016, Estes Park as a Colorado Enterprise Zone, making certified businesses eligible for a variety of significant tax credits. A key component for approving the Enterprise Zone was the State’s knowledge that Estes Park had in place, thanks to the Avalanche Consulting Report, a regional strategy for improving our local economy and that we are active partners in county-wide economic development efforts. Tax credits include a $1,000 tax credit for each new employee, a $1,000 tax credit for each employee provided with health insurance, a tax credit of 25% of the hard costs incurred to rehab vacant buildings. In addition there are equipment and vehicle purchase tax credits, R&D tax credits, and job training tax credits. These Enterprise Zone tax credits promise to play a significant role in helping existing businesses to grow and expand and in helping new businesses to take root.
Over the past three years there have been attitudinal changes as well. As a result of the community-wide Estes Valley Economic Development Strategy, Estes Park EDC initiated or supported activities and initiatives—new business attraction, broadband, and the need for workforce housing and childcare to name but a few—have struck a responsive chord throughout the community. Last week’s community-wide forum “Lunch and Take Action on Workforce Housing and Childcare,” co-sponsored by the Estes Valley Nonprofit Resource Center and Estes Park EDC, drew 78 participants. Saying “no” in Estes Park has now given way to saying “yes,” particularly on those issues on which the economic future of the community and its quality of life inevitably depend.
In closing this review and update, I would note that economic development is a long game. Wins are often difficult, and do not happen overnight. As The Path Forward, the Economic Development Taskforce’s final report of four years ago, noted, “’Go slow to go fast.’ Be deliberate and results-oriented.” We have, I believe, made great strides for a young organization. We also know that much hard work lies ahead.
I would like to thank my fellow members of the Estes Park EDC’s Board of Directors for their active participation, their commitment, and their financial support. I would also like to thank EDC President/CEO Jon Nicholas and Communication Director Adam Shake for their attention to detail and their diligence in moving the day-to-day business of the organization forward, as well as the many local residents who have volunteered their time and talent over the past three years to serve on the Estes Park EDC‘s various committees. Progress has only been possible because of you. There is, of course, still much for us to do in pursuit of our common mission. But three years into it, we are, I believe, well launched. As my favorite American author once wrote, “There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”