PCDI, Prowers County Development Incorporated, was officially put to rest Thursday, September 15th prior to a public presentation of a new name and a new direction for the organization. Formed about thirty years ago to help stimulate job growth in the county by way of bringing new business to the area or by expanding existing markets for local job growth, PCDI had a resume of mixed results. The organization had as many as six or seven executive directors in its lifetime, several for only a year or so. Its board membership fluctuated between as few as five or as many as 25 at one point before it was reduced to the current nine at the start of this decade.
PDCI has been replaced by PEP, Prowers Economic Prosperity. There have been no membership changes on the board, but new members are expected to join the current lineup under different criteria. PEP’s mission is much the same as PCDI’s, but some by-laws and articles of incorporation will be modified to allow changes for a more aggressive and professional approach to reach its goals. These changes were broached following the resignation of executive director Lance Benninghoff, who took a new position in February, 2015. Board members decided a significant alteration was needed to enact results or they could no longer count on the annual financial support of the county or City of Lamar. The two main supporters wanted to see a return on investment.
Eight months ago Denver-based PUMA, Progressive Urban Management Associates, was hired to perform a comprehensive market breakdown on the county’s economy, determining what had worked and had failed in the past, what strengths the county could offer to attract a new business to the area and what the municipalities could do to assist in that goal. Brad Segal, PUMA President, brought the long-term study to an end Thursday night with a brief public overview of his group’s 72 page recommendations and assessment of the county. Rick Robbins and Aaron Leiker, President and Vice-President of PEP, discussed why the changes to the organization were brought about, the new purpose of PEP and how their goals were going to be met.
Robbins said the recent efforts by PEP board members to garner financial support from the private sector have borne fruit. “As of tonight we can confirm that we have $42,500 from private contributors and I think we’ll be at $50,000 by the time we’re done.” For several years the private sector including the Town of Holly, had contributed under $3,000 annually. Listing the most recent contributors, Robbins named Community State Bank, Valley National Bank, TBK Bank; the former Colorado East Bank, Frontier Bank, Southeast Colorado Power Association/SECOM has offered $5,000 each for the next three years. Lamar Light and Power will review their 2017 budget for a similar contribution, KVAY is contributing $2,500 for three years, Rodeway Cow Palace is contributing $5,000 in office space and Colorado Mills has donated $5,000 as well. “What is bringing them in is the new focus on the community, encompassing all our towns and our new direction. Other businesses are also stepping up and they will have a seat at the table to make decisions for the growth of the county.” Regarding the needed by-laws changes, Robbins explained, “For a voting membership, you’ll purchase a seat at that table. We have community leaders who are putting up the funding that will make the decisions and offer direction to the new executive director. That will be important. Just by bringing some of these people together already, we’ve begun to share information that has created a solution for a local business.” Robbins said other businesses are welcome to make smaller donations and those people can offer their various business experience on future committees.
He stressed that the new executive director will be a seasoned professional, not someone who is taking an entry-level position, “Not on the first rung of their ladder or their last one, but someone who has the experience to make a difference from the start.” He added, “We now have the plan in place from PUMA, so that won’t be on their plate. There’s no need for another study to be done.”
Leiker described the new logo for PEP, one that would be new and fresh. “We’re adopting a more modern design which uses four colors. Every town was addressed in the plan and we decided on the team colors for each of the four communities,” he explained, adding that orange would represent Lamar, blue for Wiley, red for Holly and green for Granada. Leiker said the emblem’s linked circles would also represent the fact that geographically, the county is in the middle of the country. That positioning will be a key aspect in the new plan which emphasizes that, ‘Prowers County is in the Middle of Everything’, at the crossroads of highways 287 and 50. He added that a new website is now in place for future reference at prowerspep.org.
Several contributors addressed the audience with their reasons why they decided to make a financial commitment to the new organization. Clay Whitham, President of First National Bank in Lamar, said, “It became obvious that the public-private sector would have a better chance of success. We were seeing the effort made on this new approach and it was an opportunity to jump into a program which was moving forward. We wanted to assist to continue that momentum to make it successful.”
Jack Johnson, President of Southeast Colorado Power Association/SECOM, commented, “I’m excited to be a part of this new initiative. SECPA was formed 75 years ago as a non-profit group that recognized the importance of a good, local economy. When we began bringing electricity to a community, it improved the quality of life and now with fiber optics and the internet’s development, we’re continuing to add to that quality. We want to be a part of the solutions and bring something to the table. There’s a sense of enthusiasm in the community and we want to help do our part.”
Bob DeLancey, owner of KVAY Radio in Lamar since 2002, said, “The community has a lot to offer, but to grow, we need new business and industry and the resources to attract them. The municipal leadership is here. We’ve already got those items in place, but we need to attract the businesses that will grow our local work force. What I do or don’t do affects others, so if I know I’m going to affect somebody else, I want it to be in a positive way.”
The modification of the by-laws will continue until they’re approved, probably by the next PEP meeting on September 27th. At the same time, the board will begin to advertise for an experienced executive director with the intention to be ready to go to work by January, 2017. Regarding future membership, Leiker said there will always be static positions on the board, from the Prowers County Commissioners and City of Lamar or their designee. Holly, Wiley and Granada will also have a standing board membership as well as Lamar Community College, based on its ability to cater programming and educational direction to meet the needs of prospective businesses.
The PEP executive committee and officer positions will also expand, Leiker explained, adding that once the by-laws are passed the former board will no longer be valid. And the search for an executive director will begin on a national level, but they will have an experience of living in a rural community underscored in the job description. “We want to hire a person who knows what it feels like to live in a rural setting, even if they’re currently working in Chicago,” he explained.
Questions from the audience focused on the relationship the Buxton company, recently hired by the City of Lamar, will have with the work just completed by PUMA. Angie Cue, Community Development Director, replied that Buxton highlights a community’s demographic strengths to attract a retail operation to locate to the community. She said there would be some similarities, but Buxton is carrying on from the groundwork done by PUMA. “We’re already in discussion about attracting retailers in clothing, restaurants or in agriculture and we expect to hear developments from them within the next 30 to 60 days,” she stated. Where PUMA concentrated on the ‘what’ aspect the county can offer a business, Buxton focuses on the ‘how’ to get them to come here.
Robbins replied to a question about the incentives PEP could offer a business, working from the profits PCDI gained when it sold the Big R warehouses on East Washington Street that were donated to the organization. He replied, “I want to see what the new board will do with that. My thoughts on this would be to establish some kind of revolving fund to help local banks shore up business loans. I know I want to streamline the county, city and our other communities into an economic development group that functions as a one-stop shop for setting up a business. Garden City in Finney County, Kansas is very aggressive this way. They offer zero incentives. They don’t buy a business to come to them, but they provide all the tools with just one person leading that business through all the steps needed to get started. That’s what we need to do instead of sending them to different departments on their own.” Robbins expanded on that concept, saying there may be some specific items that need another person like a plumber or electrician, but PEP or its executive director will set up the meeting with the construction company or city engineers to pave the way for the client. In Kansas, they make it too easy not to locate there, “That’s what I would like to see us do here.”
Dr. Linda Lujan, LCC’s new president, replied to a question about how to raise the quality of the local workforce. She described the college’s role in the developing PEP organization. “We’re in the middle of a job career needs assessment to see just how well the college is meeting the needs of the community and the business sector in the county. We are also looking at the online curriculum of studies that are available through the Colorado Community College association.
PEP’s next board meeting will September 27th at which time the matter of adopting new by-laws will be on the table, the election of a future executive committee and determining who will be the new members of the soon-to-be expanded board.
By Russ Baldwin
Filed Under: City of Granada • City of Holly • City of Lamar • City of Wiley • College • Consumer Issues • County • Economy • Featured • Hot Topics • The Journal Alert • Tourism • Transportation • Utilities
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