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By Ed Fincher
Ken Vickerstaff announced at the Monday meeting of the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation that he is in final negotiations with representatives of City Market to transfer ownership of the abandoned downtown building to the CDC.
“Over nine months ago, when Rich Lindblad became the executive director of the CDC,” Vickerstaff explained, “he and board member Mark Weiler asked me to go back in time through my relationships that I’ve had with this entity for over 35 years. I agreed to do that.”
Although Vickerstaff warned it isn’t a done deal until the key is in the hand, and even then it will take a financial commitment from both the Pagosa Springs Town Council and Archuleta County’s Board of County Commissioners as well as private enterprise to make sure the building doesn’t remain dark, he did speak optimistically about the benefit the deal will have for the community.
“We’re all tired of driving by this empty facility,” Vickerstaff said. “It takes more than leverage; it takes a real community to make this happen.”
The CDC’s director, Rich Lindblad, then read from a prepared statement, “I would like to first acknowledge the incredible support provided by Mr. Ken Vickerstaff who almost single-handedly has made this opportunity for Pagosa Springs possible.”
The statement called upon organizations such as The Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, The USDA Rural Development Organization, the Town of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County government to lend support to the CDC in its plan to remodel the building and make it useful to the community once again.
“While we are pursuing the first $150,000 in grant money from the Colorado Small Business Development Center,” Lindblad stated, “the success or failure of this community’s ‘economic engine’ (that’s what I’m going to call it) project depends entirely on how we as citizens, local businesses and governments work together to embrace this unique opportunity.”
The CDC has several uses planned for the building complex, including a new home for the Archuleta County Education Center, more space for the Sisson Library, a futuristic computer center and a cooking school complete with its own restaurant, “that will not only be used to produce top notch chefs but will also showcase this region’s unique foods and flavors.”
However, the plan Lindblad seemed most enthusiastic about was for a state-of-the-art business incubator. “For those of you that don’t know what business incubators are, they’re places where folks who have grand ideas and have a business plan come and spend two to three years under the leadership of a business incubating management team. They get reduced lease space, they use a common administrative staff, and they have a place to run their business, but they’re coached all the time.
“After two to three years, after we’re comfortable with their ability to run their business, and their making money, we launch them. Hopefully they stay in Archuleta County and continue to grow and support the community and hire people.”
Lindblad then went on to describe a business incubator in Grand Junction, which has been in business for a little over 20 years and has received numerous awards. That program has launched 245 companies, created more than 10,000 jobs and generated over $150,000,000 in community revenue, he claimed, adding that they are one of the finest organizations of this kind in the state and have over an 85-percent success rate.
The need for some form of local economic development was hammered home by a letter from Alexandra Hall, the director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, which stated the “Not Employed Rate” for Archuleta County is 19.97 percent.
“The Not Employed Rate,” Hall explained, “is the percentage of individuals over the age of 18 who reside within the community and who are ready, willing, and able to be employed but are unable to find employment as determined by the State Department of Labor.”
This figure is a more accurate indicator than the unemployment rate, which was 8.7 percent for August in Archuleta County, because it also includes those individuals who have either never had a job or have been jobless for so long they no longer qualify for unemployment payments.
Lindblad said he considered this “Not Employed Rate” to be at crisis level; especially considering the rate for La Plata County is only 5.8 percent.
In particular, Lindblad points to recent high school graduates who have never had a job and who may not be able to afford to go to college, but who may have a great idea for a business. It is groups like this he said would find a business incubator helpful.