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DCED shares vision for innovation center

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The vision for the ENGAGE Innovation Center at Delta was outlined during the "Morning Business Buzz" hosted by the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce. The April 18 networking event was held at the Delta United Methodist Fellowship Hall, where the women of the church served a light breakfast.

Trish Thibodo, Delta County Economic Development director, said the chamber event presented the first opportunity to unveil plans for the old Chaco/City Market building at 6th and Main. It was also an opportunity to begin building the community support that will be vital for securing grants for architectural design and renovation of the building.

She shared how the innovation center grew out of a Better City study that identified eight potential projects. A steering committee representing numerous partners narrowed the projects to the two that seemed most feasible -- the riverfront development and an innovation center. DCED and its partners initially focused on a food manufacturing facility with a Paonia location, but when a grant application failed, the discussion shifted to an innovation center in Delta. Then Delta County Joint School District #50 stepped forward to purchase the Chaco building for Delta-Montrose Technical College classes, and the innovation center gained "legs."

"There have been a lot of players in this project, all helping to craft this idea," Thibodo said, as she expanded on the vision for the 23,000-square-foot building. In addition to classroom space for DMTC, the building will accommodate a commercial kitchen, a tasting room showcasing Delta County products, DCED and Small Business Resource Center offices, business support and training, and specialized resources for ag and energy. Those two sectors, along with high-speed broadband, have been identified as Delta County's greatest assets.

The word ENGAGE embodies those assets -- EN for energy, G for growth, AG for agriculture and E for entrepreneurship.

"The innovation center will be focused on industries that have existing connections (ag/energy) or ties to Delta County with the overall goal of diversifying the local economy and providing new employment opportunities to grow the local workforce," Thibodo said.

The focus will be on the "grow-your-own model" to support expansion of creation of businesses. At the same time, DCED and its partners want to get Delta on the radar, with the goal of bringing in new investment.

"The Chaco building is more than an innovation center," Thibodo said. "It can be a huge part of downtown revitalization. We're talking about bringing students downtown, we're talking about visibility, we're talking about fixing up this facility."

Delta will be the "hub," but the spokes will reach throughout the county, Thibodo stressed.

She talked about grant applications that have been or will be submitted, as well as the need for matching funds. DCED, the City of Delta, Delta County, the school district and private parties have already committed cash or in-kind contributions, but more money will be needed to match the remodeling grant.

While it will take many months for the innovation center to be completed, Thibodo said project partners are not waiting to start programming. An Energy Summit is slated for September, "so we can start to show folks what we're doing and how we're doing it."

Although Thibodo is enthusiastic about how quickly the ENGAGE project is coming together, she said it's just one piece of the puzzle geared toward economic diversification.

"A lot of time and commitment has gone into economic diversification over the last couple of years," she explained. "We want to stay true to ourselves, and use that to strengthen Delta County."

Thibodo will touch upon plans for the ENGAGE Innovation Center again later this week, when DCED hosts its annual meeting at the Orchard City Town Hall. That meeting begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 20.

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