By Caitlin Switzer

REGIONAL-When the Region 10 League for Economic Assistance & Planning announced receipt of $245,000 in funding from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) Aug. 25, the news represented an economic shot in the arm for two counties in Colorado’s West Central Region. However, the federal grant– awarded to help to improve and enhance the economic resiliency and sustainability of Delta and Gunnison counties following the recent closure of Oxbow Elk Creek coal mine–is just one of the ways in which the 42-year-old nonprofit organization is making a difference for the residents and municipalities it serves.  Since 1972, Region 10 has functioned as a governmental council for communities in Montrose, Delta, Gunnison, San Miguel, Hinsdale and Ouray counties.

In recent weeks Region 10 has also selected a provider to create an implementation blueprint for Broadband in the West Central region. After an extensive search, the blueprint project was awarded to NEO Fiber, a national company based in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Neo Fiber has real-world experience in planning, community engagement, design/engineering, business modeling, financing, owning and operating fiber optic, wireless and FTTH networks.

“We see broadband as key to removing economic barriers for our region,” Region 10 Executive Director Michelle Haynes said. “Developing solutions to the broadband issue is essential as we move forward to serve our communities and our regional businesses. We are very pleased to have NEO Fiber on our team–they have worked across the country and have experience in finding different solutions.

“We feel they are the right company to help us in developing a broadband implementation plan and solutions.”

Neo Fiber will begin work immediately with local stakeholders and regional providers.

“NEO Fiber is thrilled to be working with Region 10 on this effort,” company CEO Diane Kruse said.  “Having access to advanced broadband services is critical for the economic development and growth of this region and has an enormous impact on healthcare, education, utility management, business and government services.

“We are big supporters of community and regional collaboration to improve broadband services and look forward to working with the key stakeholders of this region to put forward a plan.”

Region 10 worked with a committee that helped drive the highly technical process of choosing a provider forward, Region 10 Regional Development Coordinator Jay Stooksberry said.

“The committee helped us to identify the strongest, most comprehensive proposal and the most experienced team,” he said, noting that the regional blueprint is being funded through the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), and should result in greater opportunities for smaller, regional service providers as well. The blueprint will be tailored to the needs of the different counties and municipalities within Region 10.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” Stooksberry said. “NEO Fiber is cognizant of this, and the process will be transparent and flexible as we look at the best options for each of our counties.”

To date, the project has been overseen by a stakeholder committee made up of representatives from Delta, Gunnison, San Miguel and Montrose counties, including Delta City Manager Justin Clifton.

“Bringing on a top-notch, Colorado-based consultant gets us one step closer to having the infrastructure we need for the 21st century economy,” Clifton said. “The fact that we’re doing this as region–working together for a common goal–is even more evidence that things are headed in the right direction.”

The first step for NEO Fiber will be visiting communities throughout the region, to discuss options, meet with local stakeholders and anchor institutions, and maintain open communication, Stooksberry said.  A community meeting on the broadband blueprint has been scheduled at the Montrose City Council Chambers from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 8.

The $245,000 in EDA grant funds, meanwhile, will go toward creating a more sustainable, local economy.

“Region 10 LEAP is pleased to work with EDA on this important project to better understand our economy and work to improve the economic outlook of our rural communities,” Region 10 Executive Director Michelle Haynes said in a news release issued by the Federal Government Aug. 25. “We are appreciative of this opportunity provided by EDA, grateful to Senator Udall’s office for identifying the need to EDA, and thankful to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) as well as to Delta and Gunnison counties, who provided matching funds to make the grant possible.”

The EDA news release notes that the mine closure is a regional economic emergency that is creating dire consequences for the affected counties, and that the adjustment strategy will provide an in-depth, data-driven analysis that will prioritize action aimed at creating a more robust and diverse economy. An agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, EDA makes investments in economically distressed communities in order to create jobs for U.S. workers, promote American innovation, and accelerate long-term sustainable economic growth.


Said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams, “The EDA grants announced today for Colorado will help develop strategies to make the Town of Estes Park (which received $300,000 in grant funds to develop a regional economic diversification, job retention and recovery strategy) and the Central Western region more resilient to save businesses and jobs in the event of future economic challenges.”