TELLURIDE – The end of 2011 marks the completion of a two-year $999,000 federal grant program conducted by the Telluride Foundation to strengthen local nonprofit organizations within the Paradox Basin to improve the community and spur a local economic rebound.
The Paradox region, in rural western San Miguel, Montrose, Dolores and Montezuma counties in, with a history of boom-and-bust cycles of resource extraction, has been hard hit by the current economic recession. Its towns – including the towns of Nucla, Naturita, Norwood, Dove Creek, Egnar, Paradox and Cahone –are spread over 3,400 square miles of predominantly public land, and have experienced the perils of small local economies based on commodity prices set in markets worlds away.
Mine and Mill Closures in 1984 Led to 40 Percent Population Drop
From 1936 to 1984, uranium and vanadium processing was the area’s chief industry, but mine and mill closures in 1984 left the local economy without a stable base, since which time the area has lost 40 percent of its population. Since 1984, the region has relied on its agricultural roots, tourism-related construction and some resource extraction to fuel development, but the current recession of 2008 has severely impacted the remaining industries, and the jobs they provide, leading to an out-migration of youth and families, leaving behind an aging community, abandoned properties and few opportunities for economic growth.
With a common workforce, integrated environments and government institutions, and shared transportation links, the Telluride Foundation has been involved in the four-county Paradox Basin for over a decade. Over the course of the Foundation’s work with community members, one thing was repeated again and again – there was a critical lack of capital for investment within the region. Entrepreneurs were unable to find investments to develop their ideas, businesses were unable to gain loans to expand their operations, and nonprofits were unable to raise enough funds to conduct or expand their programs to meet community needs.
The foundation secured a two-year stimulus-funding grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Strengthening Communities Fund in September 2009 to improve the capacity of nonprofit organizations in the Paradox region to spur economic recovery and promote growth, and the SCF program awarded $618,358 in cash grant funding to 37 local organizations to address broad economic recovery issues. The result development of five social enterprise businesses, eight new nonprofits, two member-owned cooperatives, an expansion of services by 25 organizations and high level training and technical assistance to 46 organizations. Coupled with the cash grant awards, over $300,000 in specialized technical assistance and capacity building training was provided.
The foundation hosted 19 training sessions over the course of 18 months throughout the area, attended by 46 local organizations with an average of 15 people per session, and the SCF program provided technical assistance by experts in the nonprofit field.
A seven-member Paradox SCF Advisory Committee, comprised of elected officials, business leaders, nonprofit directors, and the general public was chaired by Montrose County Commissioner David White. Explaining the reasoning behind funding decisions made by the committee, White said, “The best ideas to create jobs come from people on the ground because they are the experts on the local needs and demands in their communities. Economic growth and job creation is a community-wide effort and it starts from the ground up. To chart a path forward for our area, we need to focus on our historic roots as we explore new development streams.”
Examples of how the grant was used range from the Norwood Chamber of Commerce’s program seeking to develop new revenue streams for historic, local businesses (thanks to a $15,000 SCF grant to provide website development for member-businesses to increase their marketing and sales capabilities) to 15 local businesses receiving a state-of-the-art website designed by a local web contractor, followed by one-on-one training on maintaining and updating the website (the chamber recorded the training sessions, to be used as a resource in the future).
University Center of the San Miguel, partnering with the Naturita Community Library, received a grant of almost $25,000 to develop a distance-learning program expanding higher education in the Paradox region. Grant funds were used to purchase technology hardware, expand broadband access to the library and develop partnerships with Western Slope institutions of higher learning to offer accredited courses and skill development classes. Now, thanks to high-speed video-conferencing, Paradox residents have access to computer skill development classes and courses from Colorado Northwestern College, Colorado Mesa University and Prescott College.
“The grants committee had an obligation to ensure that these federal stimulus dollars were not only well spent, but will continue to improve our communities for years to come. Our number one priority was to make sure that all money spent was put towards critical needs in our communities and given to organizations that would be effective and sustainable,” explained White.
Compared to other SCF grant recipients across the country, an unprecedented 65 percent of the total grant was awarded as cash grants directly to local organizations (50-55 percent is typical with such a program) and almost $40,000 will be sent back to the federal government because it was not utilized.
Having proved the concept of increased financial capital combined with personalized skill development, Telluride Foundation has convened public and private sector leaders to establish the Paradox Community Trust to create and control a stable, permanent revenue stream for the communities of the Paradox Basin. The Paradox Community Trust is a new approach for creating and leveraging local opportunities for wealth and income that remains in the local community. The PCT will serve as a locally controlled community and economic development trust, funded through grants and awards, resource extraction taxes (severance tax funds) as well as endowments and planned giving. The PCT will focus primarily on asset building (cash grants, revolving loans, matching grants) and capacity building (focused training and technical assistance, small business and nonprofit incubation, peer mentoring and networking) within the Paradox Basin region. The PCT is governed by a regional board that uses the principal interest from the permanent fund to foster community improvement, economic development and to build local generational human capital.
The Telluride Foundation exists to create a stronger Telluride community through the promotion and support of philanthropy. It is a nonprofit, apolitical community foundation that provides year-round support for local organizations involved in arts, education, athletics, charitable causes, land conservation and other community-based efforts through technical assistance, education and grant making. As a grant maker, the Foundation awards grants to qualified applicants that serve the people living and working in the Telluride area for the purpose of enhancing the quality of life within the region. For more information on the Telluride Foundation visit www.telluridefoundation.org.