Read Part One
Last week, the Daily Post ran an article in our Business Section by Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (PSCDC) chair Muriel Eason, on the subject of "young entrepreneurs" and the exciting possibility — as yet untested, here in Pagosa Springs — that our young people could be trained and encouraged to become business owners.
"Building relationships with students who want to get involved in the community, supporting their efforts, and celebrating their local and entrepreneurial projects can help them develop into productive citizens and also make a hometown more attractive as a place to stay or return to," wrote Ms. Eason. "To be truly successful, youth entrepreneurship must become a priority within a community's economic development strategy. Youth entrepreneurship requires a sustained effort, especially in this challenging economic climate where much of the attention is focused on immediate job creation..."
Hawaiian children participate in a "Huge Lemonade Stand Contest" at the Hawaii Craft Fair. As Ms. Eason notes in her recent article, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.
Pagosa Springs is not an easy place to survive... economically, or biologically. Even the elk and deer have a hard time of it. For us humans who need to earn a living — for those of us who didn't land in Pagosa with an existing retirement pension or family inheritance — employment is a high priority. I've often suggested in these pages, however, that government is not the best tool for creating jobs.
"The right tool for the right job," they taught us in eighth grade woodshop class; you don't use a hammer to drive a screw, or a screwdriver to hammer a nail.
But the people driving the bus here in Archuelta County don't often agree with me on that topic. People get elected or appointed to government jobs... and they look in their fat government wallets... and, for some reason, start to believe they can make tomatoes grow in the middle of winter. Some people simply can't accept the fact that jobs appear, when they appear, without any help from the mayor or the commissioners. Jobs appear mysteriously, on their own time schedule, like mushrooms popping up in the forest after a rain.
A few years ago — just before the Archuleta Economic Development Association (AEDA) was dissolved and replaced by the non-profit, government-subsidized PSCDC — AEDA executive director Bart Mitchell and a committee of 15 local business people rolled out a 1-1/2 year-long "Targeted Industry Study" which, Mr. Mitchell claimed, could provide some "economic development direction" and help bring in or grow companies that offer higher wages, so that “we can afford to live here with the quality of life everyone desires.”
The 2009 study revealed that of 2,755 companies operating in the Archuleta County, an overwhelming majority — 79 percent — had zero employees. Additionally, these companies exhibited no real concentration in any particular industry. The study’s key finding was that certain types of business owners prevalent in Archuleta County will set the stage for future growth. In economic development lingo, those business owners are referred to as “Lone Eagles” (having zero employees) and “High Fliers” (with 1-20 employees).
According to the AEDA report, these are often direct-based firms, meaning 40-50 percent of their revenues flow in from outside Pagosa Springs. The owners of these businesses have an average income 140 percent higher than the overall average wage for the county. The study cited other industry research showing that Lone Eagles and High Fliers are not looking for traditional business location factors such as proximity to transportation corridors — nor do they commonly seek government-funded tax breaks or economic incentives. These entrepreneurs generally don't require a skilled or low-cost labor force.
A Lone Eagle, in other words, does not always require the economic infrastructure that exists in big metropolitan cities, but is absent from small rural communities located in the middle of nowhere. Like the elk and deer, a Lone Eagle can survive in a place like Pagosa Springs.
In 2009, this was one vision of how to grow the Pagosa economy: attract Lone Eagles.
In 2012, the Town of Pagosa Springs leadership — Town manager David Mitchem, mayor Ross Aragon, and the Town Council — have a very different vision: bring in Walmart.
Muriel Eason was recently elected chair of the PSCDC; she replaced mayor Ross Aragon, who resigned last spring when it was becoming apparent that his services on that particular board of directors were not fully appreciated by the general community. Mr. Aragon's friend, County commissioner Clifford Lucero, also resigned from the PSCDC board at the same time; I'm unclear whether a specific person has joined the PSCDC board as Mr. Lucero's "replacement."
Ms. Eason ended last week's Daily Post article with this information:
"The good news is that Rich Lindblad, Executive Director of the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (PSCDCP) has received the “go ahead’ to offer an entrepreneurial training class which we anticipate offering in the spring of 2013, called “Buzz on Biz” to get us started! In fact, the PSCDC has been working with the State Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and has obtained a grant commitment of $5,000 to teach the youth business program.
"Come find out more about the PSCDC and how we are trying to develop a more vibrant and diverse local economy. Join the PSCDC for a community conversation on Monday, October 8 at the Quality Resort and Suites (formerly Pagosa Lodge) at 5:00pm. We will follow the meeting with a community reception to get the PSCDC Board better acquainted with members of the community and hear more of your ideas."
Monday, October 8, at 5pm. That's tonight. And what an interesting meeting it promises to be. I understand that some of the discussion will center around "active tourism" and the kinds of economic benefits provided by the massive "Outdoor Recreation" industry. According to a recent study published by the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association in cooperation with Southwick Associates and Harris Interactive, outdoor recreation now comprises a $646 billion industry here in America, providing more than 6 million jobs. That's more jobs than education (3.5 million) or construction (5.5 million) or finance and insurance (5.8 million).
The outdoor recreation industry generates about $646 billion in consumer spending each year, according to data taken from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Following the discussion of "active tourism", I understand, the PSCDC will hear a presentation by the Town Tourism Committee (TTC). TTC chair Bob Hart, of Hart Construction, has been leading a small group of volunteers in a two-year effort to justify the 2010 purchase of a used, outdated chair lift — by proposing a small amusement park in the center of the Reservoir Hill Park, a 110-acre wilderness park within easy walking distance from the Great Pagosa Hot Springs.
Speaking of amusement parks, I've been a "Lone Eagle" entrepreneur (zero employees) for about 25 years now — with the occasional excursion into "High Flyer" territory (1-20 employees) — and it's definitely been a roller coaster ride. I probably could have benefitted from some intelligent business advice along the way, if I were the kind of person who listened to advice. But even without such advice, the ride was exciting and worth the price of admission.
If I were, instead, helping direct the policies of a government-subsidized "economic development" organization — say, a town tourism committee, or a publicly funded community development organization — would I listen to... The People?
To whose advice would I listen?
I had hoped to attend the PSCDC meeting tonight, but obligations in another small rural town (Salida, Colorado) are unfortunately interfering with those plans. I would very much like to find out how the PSCDC proposes to help Pagosa "develop a more vibrant and diverse economy." I'm hoping someone will report on the meeting...
Read Part Three...