On June 29, Victor Mitchell, a Republican candidate running for Governor of Colorado, sat down to visit with Trish Thibodo, the executive director of Delta County Economic Development, about local issues.
Delta County Economic Development, or DCED, is a nonprofit organization with the goal of creating a strong, vibrant and resilient economy for Delta County.
Mitchell has been meeting with rural communities to share his ideas for growth and see what other needs he could possibly meet, if elected.
Thibodo spoke about the issues Delta and neighboring counties have been facing since 2013 when two of the three coal mines shut down and the third had a reduction in employment.
Thibodo explained, "This means that in three years we went from having 1,200 mining jobs to just over 200. The average miner's wage was about $84,000 per year and the average county wage is now about $32,000 per year."
As a result, Thibodo said, "Our free and reduced lunches in the schools went up to approximately 60 percent from 36 percent in 2013 and the number of special needs students has increased by 4 percent since 2014, yet the number of students in the district has decreased. Our population as a whole is decreasing.
"Fewer of our residents have college degrees because we have to export our best and brightest. They don't have opportunities to come back because we may not have the community amenities or the lifestyle that they are looking for. Our average wage is 26 percent less than the rest of the state."
In 2014 DCED, Region 10 and community partners went through an extensive economic diversification study.
Through this process, DCED was able to identify eight projects, most based on the county's agricultural sector. Consultants also looked at community assets and community development.
Out of the eight projects, two became priorities.
"One of the projects we are calling the gateway project, which is looking at how we can develop the river corridor, located at the bridge on Highway 50. We're looking at putting up a hotel, doing riverfront improvement, developing a meeting center and then using the industrial land for future development."
Thibodo continued, "The other project that we are looking at is how to support and grow an entrepreneurial environment. We are looking at developing the Western Slope as a place of innovation. We would be able to do this by creating an innovation center that is focused on our area's agriculture and energy. Along with that, how do we take our area's agriculture and energy to develop entrepreneurship?"
DCED has partnered with Delta-Montrose Technical College "because it is one of the local economic drivers for looking to the future."
They are constructing the ENGAGE innovation center, which stands for energy, growth, agriculture and entrepreneurship. They also want to tap into value-added food manufacturing. This is an area where the county has opportunities to grow local businesses and attract outside businesses. This will require putting in a culinary arts commercial kitchen, doing business incubation, most likely focusing on value-added food manufacturers, and improving food distribution.
Mitchell said everything DCED is working on is very consistent with his plan for 64 Economic Development Strategy. He plans on working directly with county commissioners, mayors and community colleges to figure out what kind of private industries are sustainable and can thrive in diverse communities. He then plans on having the governor's office go out to recruit high-quality employers to relocate to this area so there are more incentives for people to return.
"I'm not a big believer of expanding state jobs. I want us to have more private sector jobs," said Mitchell.
Thibodo doesn't see the county wanting to bring in companies that will employ 500-plus due to the fear of "placing all of our eggs in one basket. It's too much of a risk and that is why DCED is looking at building the community by utilizing its differences," Thibodo explained.
There are very few companies that look to our community as a place to relocate.
"For us to even attract businesses there are things we have to build. We have been working on building our infrastructure and broadband," Thibodo said.
After Mitchell listened to everything Thibodo had to say, he responded, "The government has got to figure out ways to get out of people's way, we have had so many regulations ... we've got to understand the government's role is not to regulate businesses but to help businesses grow... Incentives for relocation have got to come from the state. Nothing here is going to be easy. One of the reasons I'm running is, for one, I am an outsider. I'm a problem solver, I've been chief executive my whole career. As a matter of fact, all the salary I'll earn I'm going to give to charity. We have to start looking at things at a much deeper level. We've had a lack of leadership. That is why I'm running."
Mitchell concluded by saying, "We've got to have a forward thinking vision, and frankly, we, Colorado, has really lagged the nation in manufacturing. At the end of the day, we want high quality, high paying working class jobs. You have to have a robust manufacturing base. We have to do a lot more in Colorado and rural Colorado is the only place where we have the land."
Two fatal accidents occurred in Delta County within a two-day span last week.
Casey Gillenwater, 25, of Delta was killed the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 13, in a single-vehicle rollover on Highway 133 outside of Hotchkiss.