It doesn’t look like the Leadville Lake County Economic Development Corporation will hire a new executive director any time soon. Mike Bordogna, former LLCEDC director, left the organization last month to take on the role of San Miguel County Administrator.
A few weeks ago, LLCEDC’s Board of Directors seemed close to hiring a new leader. The board then halted the hiring process, with the hope of gaining a better understanding Lake County Government’s financial investment in the organization before making a job offer. Lake County’s annual financial contribution to LLCEDC makes up about two-thirds of the corporation’s 2019 budget.
The Board of County Commissioners met with members of the LLCEDC board and administrative assistant Kim Jackson last week to compare notes on economic-development goals.
“This is the first time the county’s strategic plan has identified economic development as a goal and responsibility,” LLCEDC board vice-president John Wells told the Herald last week. “That’s never happened before.”
Indeed, many of the county’s long-term goals, like increasing and stabilizing revenue sources before the Climax Mine’s forecast closure, align with LLCEDC’s work. But questions persist about the extent to which LLCEDC should be involved in issues like tourism and affordable housing, as well as to how LLCEDC’s new director should allocate their time.
For example, when asked whether LLCEDC should focus on recreational tourism, the BOCC said the LLCEDC director should probably attend Lake County Tourism Panel meetings but not be an integral part of the group.
With regard to affordable housing, the BOCC said the LLCEDC should not manage housing projects in which other organizations are already involved. Bordogna was an active member of Lake County Housing Coalition’s Housing Implementation Team.
And though the BOCC didn’t direct LLCEDC to stay out of affordable housing, Commissioner Sarah Mudge suggested that LLCEDC focus more on county infrastructure needs like road construction and utility accessibility, roadblocks that can hinder new businesses from settling in Lake County.
LLCEDC projects like the airport industrial park and downtown WiFi network seemed to better fit the BOCC’s vision of LLCEDC’s role, one which includes bringing commercial development to county-owned assets.
The commissioners also encouraged LLCEDC to continue to educate business owners on grants for the restoration of historic buildings in the downtown corridor.
One point of confusion was Lake County Government’s new relationship with the Colorado Small Business Development Center Network (SBDC), a state-run assistance program that provides free or low-cost consulting and training programs for local businesses.
The BOCC recently committed $3,000 from this year’s budget to the Arkansas Valley chapter of SBDC, the Central Mountain Small Business Development Center (CMSBDC), which opened in Salida in August. The subcenter will serve Chaffee, Park and Lake County.
Buena Vista resident Jamie Billesbach will lead the CMSBDC and provide counseling and training services for Lake County businesses out of the Leadville Chamber of Commerce. Her Leadville office hours are unknown at this time as services will be based on community need.
LLCEDC also offers free mentoring and training services for local businesses, in addition to a business retention and expansion survey program, raising questions about future duplication of services.
“I see SBDC as a tool for the EDC to be able to focus on higher- level economic development,” Commissioner Kayla Marcella told LLCEDC representatives at the meeting last week.
LLCEDC will continue to counsel, train and survey local businesses until CMSBDC’s presence in Lake County is better understood.
“The business community in Leadville finally has trust in the EDC,” LLCEDC member Bob Deister said before questioning whether local business owners would be receptive to an outside agency with headquarters in Salida.
“I’m not concerned about turf,” Wells said of CMSBDC. “We really don’t care who does it if they just do it well. They (SBDC) are going to have to earn our trust before we pass our business owners onto them.”
The LLCEDC Board of Directors will convene this month to revisit strategic planning, the executive director job description, and the organization’s 2020 budget. The board plans to meet with the commissioners again before resuming the hiring process, in hopes of securing a financial commitment.
Until that time, LLCEDC will continue to operate without an executive director.