Businesses play key role in making connections

Jeff Kuhr
Jeff Kuhr

Mesa County is a pretty terrific community. Many of us have made the conscious choice to work and raise our families here. We enjoy blue sky days, outdoor activities and other opportunities.

While we live in an amazing community, we know it doesn’t come without struggles. All too often, Mesa County struggles more than other areas of the state. Consider, for example:

Our median household income is $12,000 less than the statewide average.

Nearly one in five Mesa County children live in poverty.

Our child abuse and neglect rates and out-of-home placement rate are double the statewide average.

Tragically, the suicide rate is 32.3 per 100,000, nearly two and half times higher than the national rate.

These statistics are troubling, to say the least. But how can we turn these numbers around? What’s the common thread linking these issues? These are questions more than 60 community leaders from across sectors are working to answer. What’s the one thing we can all focus on that will improve the health, economy and educational outcomes of our community?

The answer our leaders came up with is social connectedness. Social connectedness is the relationships people have with networks of family, friends, neighbors and organizations. Social connectedness is integral to our well-being and a powerful social determinant of health. Our ability to connect with others influences a wide range of areas, including the economy, education, employment, environmental protection, faith communities, neighborhood safety, technology and transportation.

Numerous studies have shown that people who have strong social connectedness and healthy relationships enjoy higher-quality lives and contribute to better functioning, more vibrant communities. A 1988 landmark study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science  showed that lack of social connection constitutes a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.

There’s also a strong business case for building connectedness. According to the National Business Group on Health, employees who feel connected at work enjoy higher overall well-being, are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work and less likely to be injured on the job.

So, how do we get there?

According to Civic Canopy, “There is broad agreement that the problems we face are so complex that no person, nonprofit, corporation or government agency has the power to solve them alone. Unfortunately, and all too often, when we as a society come together to address these problems, our different perspectives, programs, systems and approaches often leave us polarized and divided, adding up to less than the sum of our parts.”

We are working with Civic Canopy to begin our community transformation process. This Denver-based agency works with communities to transform the way they approach and solve pivotal issues like the ones we face in Mesa County. Over the course of the next year, community members will meet to plan our approach for building social connectedness in Mesa County.

Our bold vision for the Grand Valley is a vibrant, caring and connected community where each of us has the relationships and opportunities we need to thrive. We can’t do it alone. From local government to nonprofits  to educators to community members to businesses, we all play a role in building a connected community. We’d love to see you at the table.

For more information about the community transformation project, call Kay Wilmesher at 248-6900.

Additional information is available on the websites found at www.businessgrouphealth.org/topics/well-being/social-connectedness and ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic.