Group focusing on development in rural Colorado |

Group focusing on development in rural Colorado

Kay Vasilakis
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colorado ” Clarke Becker and the Colorado Rural Development Council want to help urban Colorado understand the importance of rural Colorado.

The Colorado Rural Development Council, in a partnership with the Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium, is developing the first-ever “Annual Report Card” on the Status of Rural Colorado. The report card will demonstrate the impact of the economy and workforce of rural Colorado on the state as a whole, and will illustrate economic, workforce, social and environmental health indicators. The hope is that this partnership will develop solutions to Colorado’s rural economic and workforce issues and improve working relationships between rural and urban interests.

Rural Colorado is a highly diverse region, including counties east of Denver, southern Colorado, and the Western Slope. The Colorado Rural Development Council believes identifying and working to build a consensus around key issues and concerns will serve the interest of those regions and communities.

Becker led several focus groups at the new West Garfield CMC campus Wednesday, March 19, to discuss rural issues. Business leaders attended the morning session, and elected officials and key staff attended the afternoon session. Both focus groups were given the same presentation, and their different perspectives were gathered for the report card.

Becker stated that 57 percent of Colorado legislators have a ZIP code in the greater Denver area. Another statistic provided by The Colorado Rural Development Council worth noting is that rural areas are home to 20 percent of Colorado’s total population, but 80 percent of Colorado’s land area. This has significant implications on public policy solutions.

Questions before the sessions included, “What is rural?” “What is community?” and “What is being done?” Groups voiced sentiments about why people are moving to the Western Slope from Chicago and Los Angeles, and what is expected of the growing communities.

Annick Pruett of Rifle stated, “We’ve had a complete paradigm shift for community. What is the hot button that defines community now?”

During the morning session, attendees also stated concern over the lack of affordable housing, and what will happen when the oil and gas companies no longer drill on the Western Slope.

Jeff Devere, Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely said we need to get out of our box and understand what Utah, California, Japan and China are doing to improve our global position. He stated our resource base ” water and fossil fuel ” are driven by global issues, and our area must create an environment of learning to respond to global change.

Scott Becker, of Rifle, from the Bank of Colorado, said, “I wanted to come today because I am part of the business community and I want to see good growth in the community, and inclusion of our rural neighbors to help make a better place to live, work and play.”

Tom Fleming from the Institute for Civic Achievement in Glenwood Springs, said, “We are working with community development and entrepreneurs in rural Colorado, primarily the Roaring Fork/Colorado River valleys. We’re based in Glenwood Springs. Rural Colorado economic stability is our primary priority. We want to grow the base and strength of independently-owned businesses, which in turn contributes to our community well-being.”

Lisa Bracken, of Accelerated Innovative Marketing Solutions (AIMS) in Silt, stated, “I think our valley has suffered in a commercial vacuum for at least 20 years. The oil and gas industry has infused new life and interest in our regional development. But healthy, sustainable growth has to be strategically balanced, and a big part of that is entrepreneurial investment. And the Colorado Rural Development Council is providing an outstanding forum for discussion and exchange.”

The Colorado Rural Development Council wants its rural communities to understand that in the fall elections, the most important votes the rural public will cast are those for the local elected officials ” the town councils, the county commissioners and the state legislators. Local elected officials will fight for the community colleges and the local issues with the heaviest impact on the rural areas.

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