Local investing helps area’s economic ecosystem ‘evolve’ | PostIndependent.com

Local investing helps area’s economic ecosystem ‘evolve’

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Communities around Garfield County are pulling themselves up by their own efforts through increased energy efficiency and locally-based job creation, according to speakers at the State of the Valley Symposium on Friday.

But there is a lot more to be done, the speakers said, and it will take some different kind of thinking to do it.

The Symposium is an annual event that started in 2003, and is meant to provide a “forum to explore the health and wealth of the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.”

Approximately 100 people attended the 2012 symposium, sponsored by Healthy Mountain Communities and other entities, that was held at the Hotel Colorado.

“There’s a whole economic ecosystem out there that’s evolving,” said Colin Laird, director of Healthy Mountain Communities. “People want a way to be connected, to feel they’re part of something bigger than themselves.”

Keynote speaker and writer Amy Cortese addressed “locavesting,” the concept of shifting away from investment by national or multinational corporations, and toward investment by locally-owned and locally-controlled organizations.

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Cortese is the author of “Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It,” and maintains a website, locavesting.com .

Erica Sparhawk, a program manager at Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), keyed off of Cortese’s remarks in describing CLEER’s collaboration with local communities to increase energy efficiency in public and private buildings.

“It’s them taking on projects for themselves,” Sparhawk said. She said CLEER is working to increase energy efficiency and lower energy bills for numerous government and nonprofit agencies.

She said CLEER and its partners have collaborated on energy efficiency upgrades in 132 homes, 41 public buildings, school buildings in two different school districts, and 95 businesses.

Noting that Garfield County residents, businesses and governments spent $219 million on energy in 2009, she said, CLEER’s goal is to increase energy efficiency in the county by 20 percent by the year 2020.

By highlighting increased energy efficiency in government and businesses, she said, CLEER hopes to encourage broader participation.

“If we, as citizens, see that the government is saving money, we might say, ‘Hey, my business can save money, too,’ ” she said.

A new example of a locally-grown business, GarCo Sewing Works, was described by founders Doreen Herriott and Jill Ziemann as a combination of inspiration and luck.

Inspiration arrived when, along with co-founder Beth Shaw, they realized there was potential success in a local business giving “welfare-to-work” jobs to area women willing to learn to sew.

The lucky part came when, just as they were getting started last year, the Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE) needed a source of reusable shopping bags to take the place of plastic bags that have been banned in Aspen and Carbondale.

The two women, with financial help from Garfield County, the Colorado Women’s Fund, the city of Rifle and other entities, have built up a growing business sewing grocery bags, child restraint seats and other products.

They operate at reduced rent out of the Garfield County-owned Henry Building in Rifle, though they hope one day to open up a factory.

“It was like the perfect storm,” said Herriott, who has a background in the garment industry. “Everything has really come together.”

Using recycled materials contributed from a variety of sources, including Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and Aspen Valley Hospital outside of Aspen, the business employs a growing workforce working on industrial-quality sewing and pressing machines.

“Made in America has never been more popular,” Herriott said, “and we’re starting it right here in Garfield County, Colorado.”

Few government officials attended the symposium, but one was upbeat about what he’d heard.

Dave Sturges, a Glenwood Springs City Council member, said the symposium offered ideas that “absolutely” can be applied to the town.

The idea of “locavesting” could benefit the area’s economic development efforts, if only to provide financial stimulation that has been noticeably missing from local banks, he said.

“The locavesting has been something that I’ve wanted to see,” Sturges said.

He also noted that Randi Lowenthal, director of the Roaring Fork Business Resource Center in Glenwood Springs and another speaker at the symposium, is working on follow-up meetings to build on the ideas presented at the symposium.

“I think there will be a group of people, locally, that are interested in exploring these ideas for application locally,” he predicted.

The all-day symposium also featured a panel discussion in the afternoon that gave participants the chance to dig deeper into the topics raised in the morning presentations.

jcolson@postindependent.com