What strengths set Valley County’s economy apart? How do we advance our economy such that we take advantage of these strengths and create a durable economy? Those are questions more than fifty Valley County residents have explored in a series of monthly workshops from August 2011 through May 2012. Participants broadly represented local (county and city) governments, businesses and non-government organizations. The side-bar on this webpage lists information and results from the workshops as well as relevant posts.
Economic Development Advisory Council
The group started an Advisory Council to guide, initiate or recommend projects for the region. The council is represents communities and chambers in the region and has its own website: ValleyEDC.org.. Some of its focus areas are:
Business recruitment, retention and expansion
Does it not make sense to help already existing businesses thrive?! What can we do to make them more successful? Working with chambers, communities and businesses one team aims to put businesses in touch with each other, and find out what helps and what hurts. Another team intends to help new businesses find their place in our region, and assign an ambassador (perhaps tailored to each business sector) to facilitate the process and liaise with the community. Yet another small team wants to challenge existing community members to start their own business through contests that target innovative business plan while creating an inspiring network for collaboration and micro-loans in the process.
Community and infrastructure
A community’s infrastructure is like the walls, plumbing and wiring of a house. Roads and transportation, the internet infrastructure, land-use, industry parks, energy-supply, bike-paths; all this infrastructure enables a community to exploit its talents and assets and be competitive. Energy-supply is a component critical to businesses and communities alike, but our harsh winter conditions make this a high cost component. One team has therefore set itself the goal to facilitate development of distributed, small-scale “pocket generation” of electricity that use the region’s abundant hydro, geothermal and biomass potential. Not only could this make our economy more competitive, in doing so it would substantially reduce imports into the region and, if done right, import the jobs represented by that import.
If infrastructure provides the enabling tools for a community, the creativity and skills of its community members will limit the extend of how we take advantage of those tools. An inspiring culture through arts, history and NGOs can greatly contribute. Education is another crucial component: all teams have therefore expressed their strong support for the current initiative to bring a community college to the region. Equally important to retaining and nurturing talent is the presence of businesses and non-government organizations that require creativity and focus on added value; which leads to the third component in economic development – developing the value-chain of the different (business) sectors in the region and thus promoting a deeper economy.
Developing the value chain
Think of all the products and services flowing from our forests. What immediately comes to mind is the value-chain driven by timber: logging, milling, furniture fabrication, framing, prefab components, composites – with every step representing added value through design and processing. We can point out that the two components in that value-chain, logging and milling, are past history. But there are many indications that the scale and methods of the past are perhaps history, but that innovative approaches at a smaller scale can still be very lucrative. Timber is just one of the many such value-chains. Wildfire and habitat management promote the fish & game sector, help sustain ecosystem services, and cater to sectors like guide services and the design,fabrication and distribution of fishing and hunting gear. It also feeds into new and innovative uses of biomass like the production of biochar. Trail and multiple use management assist the tourist sectors and drive design,production and maintenance of gear for snowmobiling, skiing, biking, hiking and whitewater sports.