“More jobs and diversity and higher pay, but not more growth.”
Representatives from the One Valley Prosperity Project (OVPP) committee met with county commissioners on Tuesday, March 10 to discuss the organization’s current status and plans for the near future.
The OVPP is currently in the phase of discussing community values and Russ Forrest, the county’s community development director told the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) he thinks it has been a fun discussion. Next up, the OVPP will work with the consulting firm Better Cities Ltd. to discuss vision and goals, a project phase that Forrest says is “coming real fast” and predicts will really begin to take shape around June.
According to Forrest, they picked a good group of consultants. “The EDA grant is worth about $400,000,” he said. (OVPP received a grant from the Environmental Development Agency last fall to conduct an in-depth analysis of regional economic development opportunities.) “Better Cities’ total scope of work is $175,000, even though they knew we had $325,000 in cash. They purposely left about $200,000 on the table to help implement actions that come out of this.”
The OVPP is spending time in the community surveying what people love about Gunnison County, and there is a chalkboard floating around town for public input. The chalkboard will travel between places like Western’s University Center and Gunnison High School, the airport and Gunnison Public Library, and other locations including some in Crested Butte.
The OVPP “Chalk Talk” schedule at www.onevalleyprosperity.com will tell you where the chalkboard is now and where it will go next. Forrest said the OVPP is going to people versus having people come to them or having to schedule something on the calendar in order to have their ideas heard.
“Jonathan [Houck, county commissioner] just signed up to sit at the W Café next week and talk to people,” said Cathie Pagano, senior planner of community development. “And we’ll also be talking to the Senior Care Center.”
Forrest told the BOCC the OVPP would like to meet with them once per month to discuss progress. “If you have other ideas, we’d love to hear them, since you guys hear everything,” he said.
Forrest also said last week’s OVPP Valley Launch Party was a big success. “We were pleasantly surprised with the number of people that came in.,” he said. “There were 205 chairs and we had people who weren’t sitting. We even had kids there and we hardly ever have kids come to things like this. It was a packed house.”
Commissioner Phil Chamberland also attended the party and thought The Sonoran Institute, which has also added funds to the project and whose mission is to “inspire and enable community decisions and public policies that respect the land and people of western North America,” was rather impressed with the party’s turnout.
“We’re still synthesizing all of this information,” Forrest said of the public input documented during last week’s launch party. “We’re discussing real tough things like cost of living and jobs. People would love to see more jobs and diversity and higher pay, but not more growth.
“We had some people say, ‘As long as you can preserve western heritage and keep the ranchers sustainable, go for it.’” Forrest said another response was along the lines of, “Basically, anything you can do with the university to enhance business, go for it.”
Pagano chimed in, “I’ve heard a lot of guys say, ‘We need more girls to hit on here!’”
Better Cities is also looking at the issue of entrepreneurship, asking how to help entrepreneurs here. There may even be a network for entrepreneurs created in the valley.
“[Better Cities] has their work cut out for them, and they’re moving fast. It will be interesting to see what comes of all this. With a little bit of money we’re leveraging a big level of effort,” Forrest said. “It’s still too early to know what they’ll come up with but we’re sharing feedback we get from the public so we can all figure out what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.”