By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE—(December 17, 2013) In the spirit of the season, it was a chance to share–from organizational accomplishments such as the Montrose Library’s award-winning summer reading badge program, now being implemented statewide, to the imminent availability of food in previously food-free areas of the Montrose Regional Airport, to major issues that cross governmental and regional boundaries, the deceptively brief agenda sparked a lively, wide-ranging discussion.
It was the final quarterly meeting of the Montrose Regional Council of Governments (MRCOG) for 2013, and representatives of local boards and municipalities were on hand to share not only accomplishments, but opportunities and goals. After a lengthy recounting of the grants currently being pursued—or not pursued– by various entities, a recurring subject of discussion was economic development, and the coordination of efforts among local agencies.
“We talk to each other,” said Montrose Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Director Sandy Head, adding that as an organization designated by the state to promote economic development, MEDC posts local opportunities and facilities on the state’s web site, and continues to look at ways to take the local business community “to the next level.”
“Now we are collaborating on broadband efforts,” she said.
Head also stated that Blue Star Recyclers of Colorado Springs, which coordinates a Vocational Electronics Recycling Network, has opted out of establishing a presence in Montrose.
“We had an engaging meeting in October,” Head said, “But their board has decided to withdraw their efforts to serve rural communities like Montrose, because if they cannot generate 10,000 pounds of e-recycling each month they can’t sustain funding for the program.”
Now, e-recycling efforts in the area are being handled by both Reclametals and Montrose Habitat for Humanity, she said, and the discussions with Blue Star have resulted in increased awareness of both opportunities and possibilities.
“Looking at the big picture, VERN is a no—but we gained from this,” Head said.
Michelle Haynes of Region 10 spoke about the non-profit’s progress over the past year, and the exciting prospects for 2014.
“Last year, we added our Small Business Resource Center (SBRC) with the help of the City,” Haynes said, noting that in addition to classes and educational resources, Region 10 also offers one-on-one small business counseling through the newly established Region 10 office of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
“We are focusing on existing small business, and on growing and expanding what we have here,” Haynes said. “Our Connect2Dot program helps local contractors go after CDOT projects, which keeps money in the region and is beneficial to small businesses. We hope to expand this over the next year. We have also completed a transit needs study, and are looking to increase our funding to bring in a regional transit coordinator.”
Both MEDC and Region 10 are involved in the ongoing initiative to bring Broadband to the region.
Head commented that health and wellness providers are increasingly moving toward electronic medical records and recognizing the need to coordinate such efforts among providers, making broadband even more essential to a healthy economy.
“It impacts every piece,” Haynes said, noting that Region 10 is seeking out-of-cycle funding through the Department of Local Affairs for implementation of a regional Broadband “blueprint.”
Region 10 is also establishing a grants service program for small organizations that might otherwise not pursue appropriate grant opportunities because of the administrative burden, Haynes said.
Montrose County manager Rick Eckert stressed the importance of keeping Western Slope water safe from the thirsty Front Range.
“We are currently exploring the County’s water rights in the San Miguel Basin,” he said, “with the potential of engineering and a feasibility study…we are trying to keep as much water here as we can. I hear of State plans to take water from Blue Mesa, and we are on top of that—but it’s going to be a fight. There are only 21 days of water here without the Gunnison Tunnel, but it would be best to have at least a year’s worth of water on this side.”
After noting that ever-increasing consumption by Denver and Colorado Springs has made the stakes higher than ever before, and that the Western Slope must avoid the “Buy and Dry” scenario that has ruined other communities, he spoke of the ongoing need for sustainable agriculture.
“Without agriculture, what would we do?” Eckert asked. “Agriculture is important to our state. There has to be a balance.”