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Economic vision raises optimism

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Members of the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce and Delta County Economic Development were heartened by a presentation made to both organizations last week.

On April 19, Trish Thibido, DCED executive director, and Delta city manager David Torgler spoke at "Morning Buzz," a chamber networking event. Thibido summarized the same presentation at DCED's annual meeting later in the week.

At the conclusion of each presentation, members of the audience expressed optimism about the county's economic future.

The presentations were a departure from the "doom and gloom" cast by the declining coal industry. Yes, residents of Delta County are older, poorer and less educated than other Coloradans. But Thibido and Torgler outlined steps that are being taken to turn the economy around -- steps that a year ago Thibido said were posited as "what ifs." This year, thanks to an economic development adjustance assistance grant, those strategies are taking shape. "This is really an exciting place to be," Thibido said at DCED's annual meeting.

The economic assistance grant was awarded to Region 10 in October 2014 and was targeted toward improving the economic resiliency and sustainability of Delta and Gunnison counties after the closure of the Oxbow mine.

In Delta County, Region 10 partnered with Delta County Economic Development, the county, the City of Delta and other stakeholders to engage a consultant, Better City.

In just 16 months, Thibido said, Better City has taken the project from economic assessment to market analysis to feasibility studies focusing on the top ideas for putting Delta County on the path toward prosperity.

Focusing on what Delta County does best, two projects were identified by stakeholders -- a gateway project in the City of Delta and marketing, branding and strengthening the local ag industry.

"Delta County has a rich and diverse ag sector," Thibido said. "It's a natural spot to start.

"We also have the highest concentration of organic farms in the state. It's one of our assets."

The first project DCED is working on is value-added food manufacturing that would feature an incubator/accelerator where cottage food industries and small manufacturers could share space and support. A commercial kitchen would be available by the hour or the day for small batch manufacturing.

The other focus, Thibido said, is the gateway project, which would take advantage of the Gunnison River corridor to ignite our communities and spur future growth.A higher-end hotel/conference center is part of the vision.

That hotel would be a "base camp" for sampling food and wine in the area, exploring outdoor attractions, or walking downtown for lunch or dinner.

On the river itself, there are possibilities for trails, boat access and "parks" designed for kayaks or paddleboards.

These amenities would not only draw visitors, they would also be a benefit for those of us living here, Thibido said.

She mentioned the $100,000 grant the City of Delta recently obtained to start the riverfront design process.

"It's exciting that we're not talking theoretically, we're not talking studies, we're moving forward," Thibido said.

"These projects are built to support existing and local businesses, existing and local communities," she added. "Some of it is starting in Delta but we'll continue to build projects throughout the county."

These "stepping stones" for economic development are designed with the goal of attracting younger families and active retirees. Broadband and renewable energy also play major roles in that effort.

Thibido outlined DCED's action plan:

• Getting statewide leadership on board and focused on Delta County.

• Mapping out funding, using a combination of private/public funds. Ideally, these projects will serve as building blocks to drive new private economic investment.

• Developing a model for specialty food manufacturing and beginning recruitment.

• Pursuing grant/foundation monies.

• Reaching out to hotel developers.

Supporters note that both projects will enhance and improve opportunities for existing businesses and families.

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