Whenever I attend a local event, I’m always impressed and encouraged by the way Mesa County businesses support the things that make this community a great place to live.
Some of the best-loved events in the area — the downtown farmers’ market, Junior College Baseball World Series and Palisade Peach Festival —would have a hard time succeeding without business sponsors. Non-profit and charitable organizations also rely on financial contributions from businesses to support their work.
To focus only on the fiscal side would miss the other valuable ways in which businesses contribute to the culture of our community, including how we connect with one another.
Social connectedness — or “social capital” — has gained growing recognition as a powerful personal and community influence. Strong social connections can have a greater affect on our health than quitting smoking, losing weight or exercising regularly. Solid community ties — including trust in institutions and within neighborhoods —are associated with higher academic achievement, lower crime rates and robust economic growth.
For the past year, a large cross-sector group convened by Mesa County Public Health has explored social capital as a boundary crossing approach to community improvement. What would happen, Community Transformation Group members asked, if every individual and organization committed to taking intentional steps toward strengthening even small connections in our community?
Each member of the group, business representatives included, has a slightly different contribution to make, dependent on capacity and expertise. The key, however, is that each contribution targets the same overall goal: strengthening institutional, neighborhood and personal interconnectedness in Mesa County.
Some businesses are already doing this, benefiting our community with more than just dollars. The Riverside Educational Center, a non-profit after-school tutoring program started in the Riverside neighborhood, has developed ties to local companies that support high school and first-generation college students through internships and mentoring. The work and personal skills gained in those environments, along with the relationships that accompany them, change the trajectories of young lives.
Community investments are good for business, too. Public image is an obvious benefit. People want to shop at and work with businesses they feel good about supporting. In a smaller community like ours, relationships are especially important. When your business supports something that’s important to customers, your relationships immediately grow stronger.
Being a community minded business has internal benefits, too. Just like customers, employees want to feel good about their company and co-workers. Company culture can offer a good model for the community culture the Community Transformation Group works to build. Take volunteering, for example. I’ve volunteered with co-workers several times as representatives of the company where we worked. It was always fun. More importantly, we came away feeling more connected to the community and each other.
An article in Forbes magazine in 2015 described employee volunteering as “an excellent way for businesses to create real impact in their communities and to foster a legacy of philanthropic storytelling that prompts employees to get and stay inspired … and professionally engaged.”
There are lots of opportunities for businesses to support a culture of connectedness in Mesa County. Here are four ideas to get you thinking:
Sponsor a school in an under-resourced neighborhood — the Community Transformation Group has started with the square mile surrounding Rocky Mountain Elementary School — by conducting a back-to-school supply drive, providing employees with time to serve as reading volunteers or scheduling a corporate philanthropy event like a Wish for Wheels bicycle build and giveaway.
Consider walkability and accessibility to bus routes when choosing a location for your business. If you hire workers at lower wages, will transportation present challenges for them?
Participate as a company in non-profit fund-raising events. Gather employees and their families for STRiVE’s Walk & Roll along the Riverfront Trail, buy tickets for your staff to attend the Kiwanis pancake breakfast or start training a team for the Hilltop Men in Heels race on Main Street.
Offer flexible schedules, telecommuting options, child care assistance and other family friendly workplace benefits that have been shown to increase productivity and employee loyalty and decrease turnover and absenteeism. Find out more in the Colorado Family Friendly Workplace Toolkit at www.coloradoepic.org/initiatives/fftoolkit.
We all have a role to play in making the Grand Valley a vibrant, caring and connected community where each of us has the relationships and opportunities we need to thrive.