Sunday, August 18, 2019

ICELab gets a hefty boost from county

County increases TAPP budget by $260,000 overall

By Katherine Nettles

The Tourism and Prosperity Partnership (TAPP) now has additional resources to manage the ICELab, having recently secured a funding increase from the county and hired key staff this spring after months of vacancies at the business development organization.

The Gunnison County commissioners approved a $260,000 budget increase for TAPP overall, to aid in its goal of economic development for the Gunnison River Valley. The leaders of TAPP discussed plans for the ICELab with county commissioners as well, and $50,000 of TAPP’s increased funds from Gunnison County are set aside specifically for the ICELab.

“Taking over the ICELab caused the economic development budget line to increase dramatically over 2018. However, these additional expenses also include some increased revenues through grants and sponsorships of the programming. The ICELab, TAPP and the county will continue to seek more revenue streams to support economic efforts,” wrote TAPP’s public relations manager Andrew Sandstrom in an update to Gunnison County commissioners on May 14.

Sandstrom said the increased allocation would help with the newly acquired program.

“We asked for $260,000 to help fund the extraordinary lift in year one of TAPP’s management of ICELab,” wrote Sandstrom in an e-mail to The News.

Sandstrom wrote, “$40,000 of these funds is coming from the LMD [Local Marketing District] reserves. $50,000 came directly from the County’s Economic Development Budget.”

The remaining $170,000 was “unallocated LMD funds,” said Sandstrom, which TAPP leaders originally requested as part of the 2019 budget last November. At that time, the commissioners denied the request and asked that TAPP leaders come back with a more detailed plan of how they would use those funds.

TAPP had anticipated transitioning the ICELab from its former management through Western Colorado University but that did not happen until after the new year. The ICELab will remain in its location on the university’s campus, but now functions as part of TAPP.

“Because the ICELab was a fluid project at that time, we had not allocated where all our monies would go in the 2019 budget,” wrote Norton to The News, following the May 14 meeting with county commissioners. “The [commissioners] told us to come back when we had the real plan. Which is what we presented this week. “

Norton noted, “We’re grateful to the commissioners for granting us $50,000, earmarked for economic development, to the ICELab.”

The commissioners took the opportunity to comment on future possibilities for the ICELab, including potential funding streams and programming.

“There are a couple of bills that may provide funding for additional programming as well,” said commissioner John Messner in reference to the state legislature.

Messner encouraged TAPP staff to think outside of the box. “Are there other layers [of programming] we can incorporate in there?” he asked. Among his suggestions were business development programs for public lands management, an ecology master’s degree at Western, cyber security, and early childhood education.

A plan for developing early childhood education businesses was of particular note, “because we have this lack of early childhood education slots in the valley,” said Messner. A program to get more people certified for home-based education, he said, might help solve the problem. “It’s no different from starting a business. That may be a cool layer to incorporate. And other unique funding mechanisms might be available for something like that,” he said.

Commissioner Jonathan Houck said the need for early childcare education is an “exportable” set of skills as well, which might appeal to people looking at ICELab programs from afar. “That support for childhood care really ties into our affordable housing,” he said.

Norton said he would consider these suggestions as the ICELab looks at its future curriculum prospects.

Staff-wise, ICELab recently hired David Assad as its new director. Assad relocated to the area from Raleigh for the position, and started working for the ICELab in April. Darcie Perkins was also hired as the assistant director.

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