Monday, October 21, 2019

County REDI grant work continues despite shift in ICElab

5-10-7 project still a priority

By Cayla Vidmar

The Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association (TA) is expanding into business development endeavors for the county and will soon be taking on more work with the ICElab.

Cathie Pagano, Gunnison County community and economic development director, discussed with the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) last week the shift in partnership structure for implementation of work with grant funds the county received this fall, such as a Rural Economic Development Incentive (REDI) grant of $115,200 to create a more diverse and resilient economy in the county.

Gunnison County is partnering with the ICElab and the TA to execute the scope of work to achieve the objective of bringing or fostering the growth of five companies reporting $10 million in annual revenue in the next seven years in the Gunnison Valley—a.k.a. the 5-10-7 project. However, with former ICElab director Delaney Keating accepting a position with Startup Colorado, there has been a bit of shifting with the REDI grant work partnership.

“The outcomes of the grant are necessary foundational projects establishing internal and external communication channels and refined research driving future projects,” writes Pagano via email. “The desired outcome is the creation of a full spectrum economic diversification strategy for the Gunnison Valley,” she concludes, summarizing a broad list of goals that will bring the 5-10-7 project into fruition.

“We worked with Delaney Keating on the grant and the intent was that the ICElab would take the lead on doing much of that work,” Pagano told the BOCC.

With Keating’s exit from ICElab, Pagano explained that Western Colorado University (WCU), which developed the ICElab as a way to support the university, local businesses and the community, no longer feels “they’re up to the task” of taking on the full scope of work. “With Delaney Keating’s departure I expect that we will rely more heavily on the TA but we expect to achieve the same results,” Pagano said.

“The TA is taking the lead on the accelerator [program] next year,” explained WCU chief finanical officer Julie Baca. “We are not transitioning until after the accelerator this summer.” The ICElab accelerator program is a 12-week program that pairs early stage businesses with “world-class mentors, advisors, and investors.” Applications are currently open for the third group of businesses, which will begin the program in March 2019.

John Norton, executive director of the TA, writes that the county requested the TA to expand their mission into multiple areas beyond bolstering tourism, which includes “looking for opportunities to serve Western [Colorado University] and Valley economic development.”

With this new task, the TA will be stepping in to run the accelerator program, which Norton says “is working. Two entreprenuers who went through the last [accelerator] program, ending with the Trout Tank presentations, have raised significant monies to move their ideas toward a working business.”

The broad mission of the TA is to help raise people’s earning in the valley, according to Norton, and “A successful ICElab is one way to do that.” He says in the long term, he believes the organic growth of local businesses will be more successful for the valley than the company relocation model, while noting that “We were lucky with the Blister relocation from Taos to the valley.”

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