Study explores economic resiliency

  Communities with diverse economies and strong leaders that invest in education and health care and offer a high quality of life are more resilient, according to the results of a study of 13 rural communities in Colorado.

The Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado joined with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade to conduct the study and investigate why some communities have thrived while others haven’t.

“While our state as a whole has experienced an incredible economic rebound over the last several years, we know that the rebound has been uneven across the state,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “This study provides information that can support communities in building a diverse economic base and sound strategies to achieve economic resiliency.”

Researchers conducted focus groups with community leaders and evaluated such economic metrics as population and demographics, employment and industry diversity, value add, educational attainment and natural and man-made assets for a total of 13 rural Colorado communities in Chaffee, Crowley, Garfield, Kiowa, La Plata, Las Animas, Moffat, Montrose, Morgan, Ouray, Rio Grande, Routt and Washington counties.

Researchers also performed in-depth studies of Salida and Durango to further understand perceived drivers of economic resiliency in a rural community.

Researchers cited community visions, leadership pipelines and public-private partnerships as factors essential to an economically resilient community.

“This report is even more pertinent now than after the great recession. We have many rural Colorado communities facing severe economic decline due to the rapid contraction of the mining and resource extraction industries. We must think and act more strategically and creatively — state and local governments, communities and business — so that local communities can build their own prosperity into the future,” said Paul Major, president and chief executive officer of the Telluride Foundation.

The Telluride Foundation joined with the Anschutz Foundation, El Pomar Foundation and Gates Family Foundation to help fund the study.

The study found that successful strategies for achieving economic resiliency in Salida and Durango included creating a vision for the community, investing in community assets, taking risks, empowering leaders, investing in education and health care, identifying in-fill and annexation options and collaborating regionally.

The study also identified housing availability and supply, labor market, youth and family retention as potential hurdles to economic resiliency.

OEDIT recently established the Colorado Blueprint 2.0 initiative, building on the initial efforts of the program to partner with local communities to address economic development challenges by supporting the creation of community visions, leadership pipelines and public-private partnerships.

“The information from the study will be used to inform strategy going forward. For example, leadership is an important driver for community resiliency, so OEDIT will explore opportunities to support leadership development efforts through its work,” said Meridith Marshall, health and wellness champion and senior regional manager for regional development.

The full results of the study as well as an economic resiliency guide are available online from the website at www.choosecolorado.com.