Some nonprofits in this town have a very focused mission or engage seasonally. Some of them dive deep into services or are heavy-hitting across different sectors. This week, we spoke with Adam Shake, President/CEO of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which plans for and promotes economic development in the Estes Valley. That is a big net to cast! They support the growth and retention of businesses that already exist in Estes, and in doing so, their interest expands to workforce housing and childcare—you can’t have employees unless they can afford to live here and pay for childcare! They collaborate with entities such as the Town of Estes Park, Housing Authority, and various committees in commerce, overall sustainability, and infrastructure.
How does the EDC support economic development?
We have a Business Expansion and Retention (BEAR) program. Expansion and retention are core economic development fundamentals. BEAR is about helping businesses already here to grow…or at least not shrink. One issue we help businesses address 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 more and more important as consumers have more choices.
And how do businesses engage with BEAR?
We do an annual survey that helps us compare overall business health in the Estes Valley, both year over year and historically. The survey is about 13 pages long; it is a great assessment and reflection for the businesses that put in the effort to fill it out.
How is the businesses’ health measured?
The national standard for gross net profit is typically 8%. Our businesses have been seeing exponential, double-digit growth for many years now. If we see stagnant growth through the surveys, that indicates the business is not doing something right, possibly its cash flow management or not marketing.
How many businesses participate in the BEAR program?
We have been running 30-50 per year, and many are repeat businesses. The survey flags issues we address with the business, whether they need help with a P&L report or customer acquisition. Our goal is to do 100 of these a year.
Now that we have a chamber, how do you differentiate yourself?
We have always advocated for a Chamber. We believe in the spirit of cooperation vs. competition. They have members; we have investors. They speak to higher government as a collective voice of their members.
What are your investors investing in?
In Economic Development, helping to create and sustain a healthy, sustainable, and diverse Estes Valley.
Do you have to sell this idea to investors?
No, people want middle-income housing. They want employees. We work with the Housing Authority, Town of Estes Park, Larimer County, and real estate developers to advocate for and support workforce housing on the local, state, and federal levels. For example, we advocated raising the 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 federal Economic Development Administration grant of $460k spread out over three years. This allows us to run a six-month high-level business training course, free of charge, for local business owners. Almost 20 businesses are currently committed to one to two full days of classroom time every month for six months, plus approximately ten hours of homework and outside assignments per month.
A quote outside this building says, “If you want to fly, you have to get rid of the things that weigh you down.” What has EDC had 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 keep increasing them. We continue to streamline, become more efficient, and more effective in all the things that we do.
How do you have the capacity to keep adding?
I have a working board of directors representing 20 local organizations: Town, Hospital, Library, YMCA…together they get a lot done, such as addressing employers, employees and workforce housing challenges. That is why the EDC has such integrity in the community and county. The EDC also started with one employee in 2013 and now has four.
How is economic development in Estes different from other communities?
The Innosphere down in Ft. Collins is a model for our accelerator programs. But we found they are more tech-focused; Our businesses in Estes are more lifestyle-focused: retail, lodging, restaurant, brewery, outdoor industry, etc. When we got the EDA grant, it allowed us to hire trainers that apply to our industries. Unlike many economic development organizations, we do very little business recruitment. We strengthen and expand businesses that are already here in Estes.
OK, but there must be some work going into bringing new businesses?
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 endure major events. At the time, there was a law that wouldn’t allow the Town to provide internet as a utility, like they do gas, electric, etc. A special election was held, and Estes Park’s voted turned that law over overwhelmingly. We issued a Broadband need assessment that showed affordable, redundant broadband was not only a business necessity; it was a life safety issue. This allowed Town to start work on Trailblazer, which has become a department of the Town of Estes Park. You get a bill just like you get an electric bill.
How does this help with recruiting new business?
Broadband means there is a huge potential for online business, like medical imaging or pharmaceuticals. One gentleman came to us and wanted to start a company and bring 30 well-paying jobs to town. Once he found the internet speeds weren’t compatible with his business model (prior to Trailblazer), he took the business to Fort Collins.
What are you most personally invested in?
Right now, everything revolves around workforce housing. I’m talking about the missing middle. Middle income: police, fire, town, hospital, teachers. We are losing 25-45 year-old workforce at double-digit rates, about 40% in the last 15 years. If you look at the commute of the workforce, about 1/3 of people here commute down valley for higher-paying jobs. About 1/3 of our workforce commutes to Estes because they can find affordable housing and/or child care down valley.
That is a lot of dislocated workforce.
I consider the 1/3 of people commuting down valley potential workforce here. If they had paychecks or housing that afforded them to live there, they would. The average lifespan retention of an employee who commutes (up or down) is 18 months. This situation causes a lot of employee (and residential) turnover, which is a cost to businesses, efficiency, and a cost to the community—social relationships, retaining teachers in school, etc.
Some people say even workforce housing isn’t affordable.
Workforce housing is more affordable than no workforce 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 600k.
More information about the Economic Development Corporation can be found online at estesparkedc.com. The EDC is currently hiring a Part-Time Financial Manager. Investors and business owners looking for consultation are encouraged to engage, and the public is welcome to join them at Vert Coworking every third Thursday of the month at 4:30 pm for Sips-n-Tips. Sips-n-Tips is a place for anyone interested in business to come and have tea, coffee, or adult beverage while networking and getting a business tip from BASE Program Manager Jana Sanchez.
Adam Shake is not only President of the EDC, he is also involved in Flinch Forward, an organization for Military Veterans and First Responders who are ready, willing, and able to flinch forward in times of need.