The sweeping scope of the ENGAGE initiative -- a combination of programming intended to promote energy, agriculture and entrepreneurship, along with a physical presence in Delta, is proving to be a lot to bite off.
Technical College of the Rockies is spearheading this initiative with support from the school district, Delta County Economic Development, the City of Delta, Delta County and Region 10.
The ENGAGE initiative was the result of an extensive study conducted by Better City that examined how to capitalize on Delta County's assets to spur economic growth.
As part of the focus on agriculture -- production, manufacturing and export -- and under the umbrella of the Technical College of the Rockies, the study proposed a culinary arts program. To make that program a reality, a commercial kitchen was to be included in the renovation of the former City Market store at 6th and Main.
But as Michael Klouser, TCR director, and Shawn Gardner, ENGAGE Center director, discussed the realities of the building renovation with school district administrators, they realized any new offering at the technical college would require in-depth study prior to implementation. While the commercial kitchen, culinary arts program and a retail and food distribution center were projected as the biggest revenue producers in the Better City study, they also carry the biggest risks. So to fully utilize the 26,000-square-foot vacant building, TCR is proposing to move health sciences classes downtown, along with the business classes and auto CAD courses originally envisioned to give the technical college a downtown presence.
The building will also eventually house tech support for the entire school district, office space and business incubation services from ENGAGE staff, Delta County Economic Development and the Small Business Development Center.
Agriculture remains a major focus of the ENGAGE initiative, but is being approached a bit differently, with the use of commercial kitchens already up and running throughout the county. Barry Pennell has been hired as ag coordinator to facilitate this process. Gardner said Pennell and his wife moved to Paonia specifically because of the food scene, and themselves have ventured into value-added food manufacturing -- a primary focus of ENGAGE. Pennell is also a former partner in Edesia, a commercial kitchen in Paonia that has entered into partnership with TCR.
Pennell's role is three-fold, Gardner said. He will nurture kitchen incubators where food entrepreneurs can establish their own businesses. He's also tasked with the creation, development and expansion of a food distribution channel, an effort that he will coordinate with regional efforts underway with IQF Research, Farm Runners and the Grand Junction Incubator. Third, Pennell, Gardner and Delta County Economic Development are organizing an ag conference, where outside innovators and industry leaders will be invited to an exchange of ideas with local innovators.
"There are a lot of ideas at play," Gardner said. "We're trying to figure out who's doing what and what we can legitimately help make happen."
To put some focus on what TCR can accomplish, RPI Consulting has been engaged to help the technical college identify programs with "clear, deliverable results."
The design of the City Market building, and how programs will fit into that space, continue to be a topic of discussion. Grants are funding a portion of the schematic design, but additional funds will have to be secured for the next phase of construction documents, and eventually for construction itself. It will be a number of years before TCR begins offering classes downtown, but the core mission of ENGAGE continues to be the development of an "entrepreneurial ecosystem."