Economic Development Class Strengthens San Luis Valley Communities throughout the yearsNov 16, 2022
For the past few years, the Challenge Program and the School of Public Affairs Economic Development class have focused in the San Luis Valley. The San Luis Valley is predominantly agricultural in nature, San Luis Valley is one of the poorest rural areas of Colorado, with a poverty rate estimated at 21.4%. The communities the program has worked in are primarily Persistent Poverty Counties. This work provided opportunities for not only the communities but the students to build connections and facilitate increased community engagement, thoughtful development processes, and meaningful placemaking. Since 2019, students have worked in Center, San Luis, La Jara, and Antonito.
Each Spring, the students participate in a Team Building process with the communities. This includes building relationships in the community and creating stakeholder list for the Challenge. This process was especially meaningful for the Town of La Jara as they had many community members excited to get involved but didn’t have a comprehensive list to engage them. The student coordinator Chennou Xiang made real connections in the community and the authentic communication created a meaningful result for this work. During the semester, students also create a recorded presentation with the community to effectively tell their story. In Antonito, SPA student, Jessmine Anderson, worked with high school students in the Town to tell a compelling story of the challenges facing the Town. This is an important example of how youth can come together become involved in their community and bridge community divides.
Students then have the opportunity to attend DCI’s IN THE GAME conference in April and benefit from professional development experience, networking opportunities, and experience facilitating stakeholder engagement at the community and state levels. The students meet with their communities and collaboratively create a pitch presentation for the community to use to help gain traction around actions and solutions. During the Pitch Session for Center, student team Jackie Hazelwood and Lindsay Miller helped the Town present an approach of marketing the vacant buildings and properties as part of a Business Friendly Center Campaign. The presentation emphasized that Center’s challenge was of the utmost importance because without a solution there will be no future for the town in 50 years. Center’s Challenge was a start with small steps toward long-term solutions that would guarantee the community’s viability. Following the dynamic pitch from Center, evaluators conferred and selected Center to receive a cash prize to incentivize engagement in an Entrepreneurship Competition.
Upon conclusion of the IN THE GAME, SPA students put together a comprehensive report for these communities summarizing identified assets, obstacles, and opportunities their respective community might pursue with suggested action steps and potential funding mechanisms to pursue. Today, DCI continues to work with the communities to implement the action plans SPA students put together and beyond. This program is successful due to the combination of the hard work put in by the students in the beginning of the year and the work DCI puts into implementing in the communities year after year.
DCI and CU Denver School of Public Affairs also create educational opportunities throughout the semester to showcase the process for project management, problem-solving and rural economic development. This program has helped facilitate lasting solutions for these communities and a meaningful experience for the Public Affairs students. The Challenge Program has built stronger resources, assess progress and roadblocks, and developed a strategy for small towns in the San Luis Valley to address their challenges and recovery.
“We are proud to partner with this program to give our students a dynamic, hands-on economic development experience that also helps Colorado local governments find solutions,” said Randy Harrison, CU Denver Senior Fellow-Director of the Certified Public Manager Program. “The Student Project Coordinators are thrilled every year to use the skills they are learning to help a Colorado community and to network with so many professionals from Colorado state and consulting agencies.”
The SPA Economic Development class has been credited by communities for providing an important service at this time of need. Past students from this class have also attributed the real-life experience as the number one class they reference when sharing experience for a job interview. The class is remarkably well-suited for hybrid participation and in 2023 will consider the prospects and frameworks that communities will need to build more inclusive places in the future. Register for the 2023 Spring Semester Now!
About the Economic Development Class (PUAD 5630)
Students will examine the concepts, policies and practices of economic development by developing a project in partnership with Downtown Colorado Inc. (DCI). Students will become members of a project team in DCI’s Colorado Challenge Program and will work directly with local communities throughout Colorado. They will connect with local and state-level stakeholders, community members, and experts in the field of economic development to address a significant community challenge in one Colorado community throughout the semester. Through their partnership, SPA students and DCI have connected with and created initiatives for more than 30 Colorado communities.
Students will engage guest lecturers who are currently leading economic development agencies and initiatives and evaluate projects by doing research, analyses, exercises and field interviews. Students will enhance their knowledge and skills using economic development tools in practice and will gain an understanding of the context and narrative of economic development in Colorado communities.