An international solar energy company, a regional newspaper with more than 30,000 subscribers and two companies operating under a synergistic business model were among those honored at the annual meeting of the Paonia Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 25.
"We're such a small community and we have so much," said chamber president Doris Danielson.
High Country News was named Nonprofit of the Year by the chamber. Located in Paonia since 1970, the independent media organization with more than 30,000 subscribers covers public lands, water, natural resources, energy, grazing, wildlife and other issues important to the American west.
"In terms of nonprofit journalism and having a community that support it ... it's super important right now," said managing editor Brian Calvert in accepting the certificate for HCN. Other nonprofit media organizations are struggling to find the resources to follow what is happening, said Calvert. Unlike the nonprofits operating in big cities and paying high overhead, HCN is based in a small, rural community. "In that way, High Country News is way ahead of the curve," he said.
"I don't think I need to say how much this group is doing for us and the world," said Danielson in presenting the certificate for Large Business of the Year to Solar Energy International.
"Only in Paonia would SEI be considered a 'large business,' " said SEI executive director, Kathy Swartz, who accepted the award along with board president Ed Marston and office manager Chris "Smitty" Smith. SEI draws about 1,000 students to the community annually and donates beyond its annual dues to the chamber, said Swartz, who urges others to do the same. Without a thriving community, "Our students wouldn't come here."
Rather than give the Small Business of the Year award to a business, the chamber decided to give it to the concept of the co-business model, said board vice president Annette Pretorius. Paonia's low population makes it difficult to operate a business, but The Cirque Cyclery, Shish Ka-Bikes and Remedy Juice Bar and The Refinery are making it happen. Amy DeLuca with the Cirque, Chelsea Bookout with Remedy and Refinery owner Elisabeth Delahaunty accepted the award. "We really wanted to create a space that we could hang out in," said DeLuca, one of four Cirque founders. The space continues to evolve and grow and is offering more events as time goes by.
For 20 years, Delahaunty has operated Elisabethan, which makes clothing out of recycled and repurposed fabrics. Elisabethan clothing is sold throughout the country. Last year Delahaunty opened her flagship store, Refinery, on Grand Avenue. "We've been amazed at the people who have been coming in the store, where they're coming from and why they're coming," said Delahaunty. "Next year we're going to be vying for 'Large Business of the Year.' "
The Volunteer of the Year award went to the husband and wife team of John Mattox and Mary George. Chamber president Doris Danielson said that when the chamber asks for volunteers, they jump. "We appreciate the chamber and like to participate whenever we can," said George.
A special award for Young Volunteer of the Year went to Theo Zimmer. He helps wherever and whenever he can, said Danielson. Theo was awesome to work with at the chamber's Oktoberfest, said Swartz. "He was willing to do anything."
Trish Thibodo, executive director of Delta County Economic Development (www.deltacountyed.org), was one of three guest speakers at the meeting. Thibodo spoke about the projects and initiatives DCED is currently working on. Among them are the ongoing broadband initiative to bring high-speed internet to rural Delta County, local renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts, countywide branding, the Rural Jumpstart Zone program, Blue Print 2.0 initiative through the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
Nancy Murphy, director of Region 10's Small Business Development program, briefly explained what Region 10 and the program are and the resources they provide, including one-on-one consulting, classes and training, and business funding programs. "We try to get into the community and really help support what's going on," said Murphy. Representatives are at The Hive Paonia the first and third Tuesdays of the month for business and loan fund program consultation.
Mary George spoke about the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition, which in December received a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Tourism Office through its marketing matching grant program. Eleven individuals partnered to apply for the grant, which "made all the difference in us getting this money," said George. The coalition will begin collecting feedback from the public on how best to market the area.
Jim and Elaine Brett were honored as Citizens of the Year. Jim has put "months and months of work" into the chamber website, said Danielson, and Brett is involved in numerous ventures and nonprofits. While they've been deeply involved in the community for many years, said Danielson, "We felt it was time to formally recognize the fact that they're pulling a lot of strings behind the scenes to make our community better."
"I just truly believe in this town," said Elaine Brett, who sees her most recent project, "Space to Create," as a way to bring more prosperity into the town. She is also preparing to join the board of Downtown Colorado, Inc. "Together we can make this a better place than it already is," said Brett.
The theme of the meeting was "By the Numbers." In 2016 the chamber partnered with, collaborated on or sponsored 14 community events. It provided information to 4,000 people who stopped in at the downtown Paonia Visitors Center, where the chamber provided 1,664 hours of services. The chamber's three fundraising events raised $3,922 and 34,550 online visitors connected to local businesses through the chamber's website, paoniachamber.com.