|We live in a valley rich with heritage, great citizens, and a beauty not easily matched. With more people moving to the Valley, economic development is more important than ever.
The Custer County Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC) was formed and registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in July of 2012. Its mission is to “work with companies interested in relocating to Custer County; working with local companies that are just starting up; and working with local companies to retain jobs by networking with local, regional, state and national companies, businesses, agencies and individuals.”
The CCEDC isn’t just “that group that wants to bring broadband to the county.” Some may remember “Ride the Rockies” in June of 2015. Ride the Rockies is an annual event where riders from all over the United States, come to Colorado to take part in a six-day, cross-state tour. Different routes are selected each year. That summer, Westcliffe was chosen as the last stop-off, during the 464 mile race. One of the Ride’s organizers first questions was, “Where is your public Wi-Fi located and what’s the password? The CCEDC sprang into action and with a $25,000 matching grant from El Pomar Foundation in April of 2015, coupled with contributions of $25,000 from community members, Main Street Wi-Fi was created. The system was up and running 10 days before Ride the Rockies started. Main Street Wi-Fi remains available for residents and visitors to enjoy, free of charge.
Board members have extensive backgrounds in business, education, economic development, and telecommunications/ information technology. They came to the Valley to retire and enjoy all Custer County has to offer. All believe in the importance of giving back to the community. Everything the board does, is pro-bono. Any workshops, events, meetings, etc. they attend, comes out of their own pocket. They never ask, nor are they reimbursed for anything. Grants aren’t available for operational costs. The CCEDC must generate its own money through membership dues to cover those costs.
Dale Mullen is Vice President of the CCEDC and serves as Broadband SME of the organization. He has consulted for 3M, General Motors and Category X airports (DFW/SFO/LAX), upgrading their communications and computer systems. Mullen also is in the Wet Mountain Valley Rotary Club, and serves on the Custer County Planning Commission.
Wilson Jarvis serves as a board member on the CCEDC. He held numerous entrepreneurial and executive positions throughout his career. He is currently president of the Custer County Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Custer County Affordable Housing Committee, and active in the Dark Skies organization. It was during Ride the Rockies that Jarvis met Charles Bogle.
Charles Bogle is president of the CCEDC. Bogle was on the Economic Development Committee that was formed in the early 2000’s. He also was part of Governor Hickenlooper’s Bottom Up Economic Plan. The purpose was to help reinvigorate the economy, grow businesses, and attract new businesses to Colorado.
Marilyn Stodola serves as secretary of the CCEDC board. She is an economic development appointee by the previous Board of County Commissioners. Stodola serves on the executive board of the Southern Colorado Economic Development District (SCEDD), which is comprised of 12 counties in southern Colorado. She is a region 13 Tourism and Outdoor Recreations Sector Chair for the 2018 grant cycle funded by Colorado Workforce Development Council, and served as Main Street Manager for a year and a half.
The CCEDC worked with Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG) in 2014, to participate in their Five County Five Year Strategic Broadband Plan (2016-2020) which completed in March, 2015. Acting on the recommendations of the Broadband Strategic Plan, CCEDC obtained funding from the Departmentv of Local Affairs (DOLA) to undertake a Custer County-wide analysis and design of needed broadband infrastructure to improve broadband service/coverage across Custer County. This study was completed in March, 2017. The cost for this study was covered by a DOLA grant.
The CCEDC knows the benefits of having broadband in Custer County will be far-reaching. The Wet Mountain Valley population is projected to double within the next 20 years. The need to better accommodate our growing population is increasing every year. While we have a better quality of life, we don’t have a strong job base to serve our citizens.
People are moving to the Valley but not staying because they aren’t able to find jobs or support their families. Our population is largely older. Custer County was statistically 80 percent ranching and 20 percent other, that statistic is now flipped. This younger generation isn’t staying to work on the family ranch as in past generations. Today’s kids are leaving the area to pursue other career paths. Most ranches are sold off and divided into smaller parcels, rather than being kept as “working ranches”. When the older generation passes away, we will have a diminishing tax base, which will place the burden on more people to sustain the community. This would hurt our economy, schools, infrastructure, Sheriff’s Department, and Emergency Services.
Broadband provides opportunities for workers to do their job remotely, meaning John Doe, who works for Company X, located in Denver, could live in Custer County, and do his job from his home computer. We need technology for our citizens to stay connected, and to be a part of our community.
Many have asked how broadband projects can improve cell service. Three of the six towers have been determined as “good cell site” locations. Landlines aren’t being put in homes as much as they used to be. They’re being replaced with cell phones and voice over internet protocol (VOIP) phones.
Many people have asked how they can get involved. One way is to attend commissioner meetings. Let Commissioners Canda, Printz, and Flower know how you feel. Currently, the broadband infrastructure project is in queue for the approval of state, federal, and private grants. Monies for the project are largely coming from public funds, meaning, federal tax dollars earmarked for infrastructure. If Custer County misses the deadline, or passes on this opportunity, available funding will go somewhere else. We may not have an opportunity again, as we currently have the talent pool to make it happen, and may not, in the future.
The CCEDC is also asking for supporting contributions to be made through the Wet Mountain Valley Spirit Campaign. All funds donated through there are matched and tax-deductible.
For more information you can visit the CCEDC website at www.custercountyedc.com Board members are also available if you have any questions. Please stay tuned for more future articles and updates.
– Tracy Ballard