With the closure of the coal mine and coal power plant in the West End of Montrose County (Nucla and Naturita), the Telluride Foundation has been working with the West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) for the last few years to help diversify the economy and to be prepared for the impending loss of tax base and jobs. The Foundation helped support the salary for an Economic Development Director in 2018 and in 2019 applied for and received a three-year $800,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (matched with an additional $800,000) to support WEEDC operations, including a plan to diversify the economy through value-added agriculture, outdoor recreation and tourism, and business and entrepreneurship.
2019 was a fantastic year for WEEDC, with numerous projects started, completed and still underway. WEEDC started the year by adding new personnel. Deana Sheriff was hired as the Executive Director, Nichole Glaser was hired as the Business Development Manager, and Makaela Vodopich was hired as the Community Partnership Coordinator. Nichole’s focus is on the development of start-up businesses and business classes, and Makaela has been responsible for communications within the community including starting a monthly “Community Coffee.”
The business development and assistance were exceptionally successful. Thirteen (13) new businesses started in the region (including 3 transitioning power plant employees starting their own business), and five (5) businesses were retained. Over 20 new jobs were created, and more could have been created if labor were available. In 2019, WEEDC served 12% of the total clients counseled in the Region 10 network, and WEEDC’s Business Development Manager logged the 2nd highest number of counseling hours in the region.
WEEDC held several classes and business courses in 2019, including “So You Want to Start a Food Business,” “Launching Your Business,” “QuickBooks,” and “Leading Edge.” These classes and courses were well attended with a total of 40 participants. Many of the new businesses that opened in 2019 had either the owner or staff in attendance at one or more of the courses.
WEEDC also successfully completed several large projects in 2019. These included:
- opening a new grain mill in Norwood that will utilize locally grown grains and provide an outlet for local grain producers to sell their products;
- assisting the Fresh Food Hub in Norwood with the purchase of new coolers and canning equipment for their community kitchen;
- created a substantial outdoor recreation marketing campaign through OutThereColorado, which had over 1.6 million impressions, over 12,000 ‘clicks’, between 49,000-78,000 views on Facebook (depending on the article), and 78,000 “opt-in” emails for future marketing. The most popular stories of the 13 articles that were produced were focused on trail systems in the West End, camping spots, and the living history of the region;
- Hopkins Field Airport finished its runway expansion and received final FAA approval for night landings. Montrose Regional Airport (in charge of Hopkins Field) developed a “Back Country Basecamp” campaign to market to smaller airplane users; and
- WEEDC contracted with Community Builders to complete a Sustainability Plan for the future financial viability of the organization post EDA grant.
On top of these activities and more, WEEDC staff was able to completely refurbish and repaint The Collective Mine (the coworking space managed by WEEDC). The EDA grant provided funding for new furniture and equipment necessary for video conferencing. The Collective Mine is partially leased and has seen a significant increase in ‘drop in’ users going through the area. The kitchen in the Collective Mine is seeing an increase in use and is regularly used by Tri-County Health for “Cooking Matters” classes in conjunction with their Food RX program. This program has significantly increased the amount of fruits and vegetables being purchased at local grocery stores.
The Foundation is proud to partner with WEEDC, supporting economic development in the West End, and attributes its success to the local staff and board, doing the hard, day-to-day work necessary to implement long-term change. We look forward to more positive changes in 2020!