Meet the Economic Development Corporation – Estes Park Trail-Gazette
Some nonprofits in this city have a very focused mission or engage on a seasonal basis. Some of them dive deep into services or hit hard in different sectors. This week we spoke with Adam Shake, President and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which plans and promotes economic development in the Estes Valley. It’s a big net to throw! They support the growth and retention of businesses that already exist in Estes and in doing so their interest extends to workforce housing and child care – you cannot have employees s ‘they can’t afford to live here and pay for childcare! They work with entities such as the City of Estes Park, the Housing Authority, and various trade, global sustainability, and infrastructure committees.
How does EDC support economic development?
We have a Business Expansion and Retention (BEAR) program. Expansion and retention are fundamental elements of economic development. BEAR aims to help existing businesses grow…or at least not shrink. One of the problems we help businesses solve is customer retention; in Estes, they have historically relied on the open and closed sign on the door. We are in a world where customer loyalty is increasingly important as consumers have more choices.
And how do companies interact with BEAR?
We conduct an annual survey that helps us compare the overall health of businesses in the Estes Valley, both year over year and historically. The survey is approximately 13 pages; it’s a great assessment and reflection for companies striving to fulfill it.
How do we measure the health of companies?
The national standard for gross net profit is generally 8%. Our businesses have experienced exponential double-digit growth for many years. If we see stagnant growth across surveys, it indicates that the company is not doing something right, perhaps its cash management or lack of marketing.
How many companies participate in the BEAR program?
We run 30-50 a year, and many are recurring businesses. The survey flags issues we are addressing with the business, whether they need help with a P&L report or customer acquisition. Our goal is to do 100 per year.
Now that we have a Chamber, how do you stand out?
We have always pleaded for a Chamber. We believe in the spirit of cooperation versus competition. They have members; we have investors. They address the higher government as the collective voice of their members.
What are your investors investing in?
In economic development, help create and maintain a healthy, sustainable and diverse Estes Valley.
Should you sell this idea to investors?
No, people want middle income housing. They want employees. We work with the Housing Authority, City of Estes Park, Larimer County and real estate developers to advocate and support workforce housing at the local, state and federal levels. For example, we have advocated increasing height and density allowances for workforce housing through zoning changes.
Online I see you have a BASE program. How is BASE different from BEAR?
The BASE program is “Business Accelerator Service of Estes”. We recently received a grant from the Federal Economic Development Administration of $460,000 over three years. This allows us to organize a six-month high-level business training for local business owners free of charge. Nearly 20 companies have currently pledged one to two full days of class time each month for six months, plus about ten hours of homework and outside assignments per month.
A quote outside this building reads, “If you want to fly, you must get rid of the things that weigh you down.” What did EDC have to get rid of over the years?
We haven’t gotten rid of any of our programs or services over the years. In fact, we continue to increase them. We continue to streamline, become more efficient and more effective in everything we do.
How do you have the ability to keep adding?
I have a board that represents 20 local organizations: the city, the hospital, the library, the YMCA…together they do a lot, like addressing employer, employee and workforce challenges in terms of housing. This is why EDC has such integrity in the community and county. EDC also started with one employee in 2013 and now has four.
How is the economic development of Estes different from other communities?
The Innosphere at Ft. Collins is a role model for our acceleration programs. But we’ve found that they’re more tech-focused; our activities in Estes are more lifestyle oriented: retail, lodging, restaurants, brewery, outdoor industry, etc. When we got the EDA grant, it allowed us to hire trainers who apply to our industries. Unlike many economic development organizations, we do very little business recruitment. We strengthen and develop the companies already present in Estes.
Okay, but there must be work to attract new business?
A huge opportunity is the advent of Trailblazer broadband. After the flood, when the internet went down here, it affected everything from cell towers to ATMs to 911. Broadband needs to be redundant, affordable, and able to sustain major events. At the time, there was a law that didn’t allow the city to provide internet as a utility, like they do for gas, electric, etc. A special election was held and Estes Park voters overwhelmingly overturned this law. We published a broadband needs assessment that showed that affordable, redundant broadband was not just a business necessity; it was a matter of personal safety. This allowed the city to begin work on Trailblazer, which became a department of the City of Estes Park. You receive a bill like you receive an electricity bill.
How does it help recruit new companies?
Broadband means there is huge potential for online business, such as medical imaging or pharmaceuticals. A gentleman came to see us and wanted to start a business and create 30 well-paying jobs in town. Once he discovered that internet speeds weren’t compatible with his business model (before Trailblazer), he took the company to Fort Collins.
What are you most personally invested in?
Right now it’s all about workforce housing. I’m talking about the missing middle. Average income: police, firefighters, city, hospital, teachers. We are losing the 25 to 45 year old workforce at a double digit rate, about 40% over the last 15 years. If you look at the movement of the workforce, about 1/3 of the people here go to the valley for higher paying jobs. About 1/3 of our workforce travels to Estes because they can find affordable housing and/or daycare in the valley.
That’s a lot of dislocated manpower.
I consider 1/3 of the people who commute to the valley of the potential workforce here. If they had paychecks or housing that they could live in, they would. The average retention period for an employee who commutes (up or down) is 18 months. This situation leads to a lot of turnover of employees (and residences), which is a cost for companies, efficiency and a cost for the community – social relations, retention of teachers in school, etc.
Some people say that even workforce housing is not affordable.
Labor housing is more affordable than non-labour housing. There is no inventory here. An apartment, by nature, will be more affordable than a single family home. A month ago, the average median price for a single-family home in Estes Park was over $600,000.
More information about the Economic Development Corporation can be found online at estesparkedc.com. EDC is currently hiring a part-time CFO. Investors and business owners seeking consultation are encouraged to engage, and the public is invited to join them at Vert Coworking every third Thursday of the month at 4:30 p.m. for Sips-n-Tips. Sips-n-Tips is a place where anyone interested in business can come for a tea, coffee or adult drink while networking and getting business advice from BASE Program Manager Jana Sanchez.
Adam Shake is not only president of EDC, he is also involved with Flinch Forward, an organization for military veterans and first responders who are ready, willing, and able to step back when needed.