Economy & Economic Development  January 30, 2024

Chamber to absorb Estes Park Economic Development Corp.

ESTES PARK – The Estes Chamber of Commerce will take over operations and responsibilities of the Estes Park Economic Development Corp., the chamber said Tuesday.

Economic-development programs and initiatives for the Estes Valley will be run by a newly formed economic-development department that will be managed by the chamber, and the person who chairs that department will be added to the chamber board.

“Our aim would be to make this official by the end of February,” said Christina Kraft, Estes Park market president for Bank of Colorado, who also chairs the EDC board. “There’ are a few housekeeping items that we need to work through, but we hope to get it all done as soon as possible.”

The EDC was founded in 2013 as a public/private nonprofit partnership out of concern for the present and future viability of the Estes Valley’s economy and has played a role in numerous economic development initiatives since its inception, including the creation of the Business Accelerator Services of Estes (BASE) programs.

Even then, noted chamber board member Kent Smith, who served on the task force that created the EDC, “one of the things we talked about was coordinating with the chamber. But about the time we got it going, we had a flood” — the September 2013 deluge — “and the EDC ended up taking care of that instead of this.”

Adam Shake, who was the EDC’s business development manager when it was founded and then succeeded Jon Nicholas as president and CEO, resigned last May.

“Over the course of the last year since Adam left, the organization has been looking at its strategic direction,” Kraft told BizWest. “It needed to know what’s the right direction for the organization given that shift.”

The EDC’s investors commissioned a task force that called for a renewal of its focus, creating better alignment with local organizations and paying closer attention to macro- and micro-level economics while building on its own past successes. Collaborative workshops were held last summer.

“We researched 20-plus other gateway/tourism economies, most with similar-sized populations and visitation,” said John Schnipkoweit, who was appointed the EDC’s interim CEO. “Of those communities that invest in economic development, 50% had a single local organization that not only handled economic development but also chamber and sometimes visitors bureau and marketing functions.

“These learnings identified a path to operationalize the strategic results, maximizing the impact of the EDC and investor dollars,” he said. “The outcome was that the chamber would create an Economic Development Department under its organizational umbrella, and the EDC will be dissolved.”

A reimagined Estes Chamber of Commerce, which dropped the word “Park” from its name to include the entire Estes Valley in its outreach, was founded in 2019 to be the champion for business, dedicated to promoting a strong business climate, connecting business and community, and making Estes Park a great place to live, work and play.

Colorado Springs-based leadership coach Donna Carlson was hired as the new chamber’s first permanent executive director in 2020, succeeding interim chief Keith Pearson, and was followed in 2022 by Colleen DePasquale, who had been president and CEO of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce and its nonprofit foundation in Florida.

While the Estes Chamber and the EDC had distinct missions and programming, DePasquale said, “the outcomes will be optimized by combining resources to maximize the impact of our efforts. The chamber has created this department and initiated the new processes required to meet the financial transparency needed, and we are pleased that this unification of resources can now take place.”

The chamber’s new department will now be responsible for maintaining existing programs such as the BASE accelerator and creating new programs, while providing business assistance that is aligned with the economic-development mission.

“It is important to our chamber team that the voice of investors in economic development remain strong,” DePasquale said, “and we are creating an Economic Development and Workforce Council, made up of investors and chamber members, to provide strategic guidance, drive continuity and oversee transparency of operations.

“Additionally, the BASE program is considered an integral part of moving forward, and we are excited to share that this will continue and will be the first work from the new department,” she said, thanks to the approval by the town’s Board of Trustees to transition BASE funding to the chamber’s new Economic Development Department.

“That money is only for economic development, not the chamber directly,” Smith said. Chamber membership dues and other fundraising will remain committed to activities and operations for the benefit of chamber members.

Smith emphasized that the new department will have a clearly defined role that is unique to tourism-dependent Estes Park and unlike similar operations in larger cities.

“It’s not like attracting widget manufacturers and giving them tax incentives. That’s not what works here,” Smith said. “Here, economic development is about helping keep sustainable businesses and keeping them successful. It’s related to the business services a chamber provides, but to the next level.”

Kraft added that “for a community of our size, this creates a lot of efficiency, both leadership and financial, that should create more programming for our community and maximize resources.”

DePasquale said the chamber would begin a search for a permanent program manager.

“The Estes Chamber is excited to take on the continuance of the BASE education program and working with the newly formed Economic Development Department within the chamber,” said chamber board member Robert Armstrong. “This will allow the chamber to build on the successful combined missions of both organizations in being a champion for business, dedicated to promoting a strong business climate and assisting businesses in scaling a robust workforce and cultivating a diverse economy in the Estes Valley.”

The new department’s responsibilities will include developing resources for businesses and implementing county and regional workforce development programming. This also includes identifying gaps and implementing new programming on specific opportunities for local businesses, developers and workforce. Kraft said the department will continue building upon new partner relationships with Larimer County, the county’s Small Business Development Center, the Northern Colorado Hospitality Sector Partnership, the Larimer County Workforce Development Board, the NoCo Works Business Resources subcommittee, the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Rural Opportunity Office and the Larimer County Business Retention and Expansion Partnership.

In an email to EDC stakeholders Monday, Kraft wrote, “I ask that you take time to celebrate the past decade of our organization and recognize the power of relationships fostered and accomplishments over the years. Your collective investment, in dollars, time or both will continue to impact our community in a positive way. The importance of the public-private partnership model remains, and I ask that you please continue your support.”

The Estes Chamber of Commerce is taking over operations and responsibilities of the Estes Park Economic Development Corp., the chamber said Tuesday.

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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