WESTERN SAN JUANS – Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper toured a handful of locally owned businesses in Delta, Ridgway and Telluride on Saturday, Aug. 30, highlighting his efforts to incentivize rural economic development throughout the state.
“We are trying to look at why some rural communities do better than others,” he said. “Part of it seems to be diversified economies. We are also looking at different kinds of small manufacturing businesses and trying to understand, what is the DNA of successful small businesses in Colorado, and in what ways can the state help them?”
In Delta, Hickenlooper visited a cluster of businesses that recently received Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) Program grants to help with facility expansions, and celebrated their new success and employment opportunities.
The REDI Program awards small grants to help eligible rural communities develop plans and undertake projects to create jobs, drive capital investment, and increase wages to help grow and create resiliency and diversity in the local economy.
In Ridgway, Hickenlooper toured the Bennett Forgeworks, a manufacturing facility for mash tuns and other brewing equipment which emerged from an innovative collaboration between local metal worker and a brewer. The company now ships internationally.
His next stop was Billings Artworks just up the street, a Colorado company with celebrity ties, where the Grammy Awards are crafted and manufactured by artist John Billings and his employees.
Over lunch at Kate’s Place, Mayor John Clark and Town Manager Jen Coates touted the Town of Ridgway’s many recent success stories to the governor, including its Colorado Creative District and Main Street Program designations and extremely popular summer concert series.
While Hickenlooper took rather a fancy to Ridgway’s dirt streets and rough edges, Clark also shared details of the $10.5 million RAMP grant which Ridgway was recently awarded, to implement huge infrastructure improvements in its downtown core area, in cooperation with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Another scheduled stop took place at TheraTogs, a business formerly based in Telluride that manufactures comfortable orthotic undergarments providing support to improve postural stability in patients with a variety of conditions such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. The business has really taken off over the past several years, and does a lot of sales in Europe.
Hickenlooper’s spin through town also included an impromptu visit to Lisa Issenberg’s awards and metal crafting business on Clinton Street, and a photo op in Ridgway’s Hartwell Park with Randy and Jen Charrette, who were up to their eyeballs managing the Axel Classic Bicycle Classic that day. Hickenlooper himself was instrumental in starting the successful USA Pro Challenge bicycle race through Colorado, now in its third year.
“Ridgway is emblematic of Colorado,” HIckenlooper said. “It’s so beautifully located, but like lots of parts of Colorado, it’s the people that make it a successful community.”
The business tour wrapped up in Telluride, with a visit to the American Academy of Bookbinding, which conducts intensive courses in the fine art of leather binding, book restoration, repair and preservation practices, and is part of Telluride’s designated Creative District.
Reflecting on the region’s successful efforts to emerge from the economic downturn of 2008, Hickenlooper harkened back to his own experience as a small business owner and entrepreneur in the 1980s, when he opened the first brewpub in the Rocky Mountains, the Wyncoop Brewery, in LoDo (Lower Downtown). Back then, LoDo was a struggling Denver neighborhood. Today it is thriving, and has become a national model for urban renewal.
“These things take years,” he said. “Everybody always wants everything to happen tomorrow. I started working on Wyncoop in 1986, and finally opened in ’88, and LoDo didn’t really take off until ’95 or ’96. And people had been working on LoDo for 20 years before that. It takes time. It just does.”
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