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Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Executive Director Jake Rishavy presented the EDC’s 2023 progress report and 2024 funding request at the November 14 Buena Vista Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting. After the presentation, Rishavy spoke about tension between the BOT and the EDC and listened to the trustees’ concerns.

The EDC is requesting $15,000 from the Town of Buena Vista for 2024. This is the same amount they requested and received from Buena Vista in 2023.

Rishavy provided a brief overview of the EDC’s strategic plan and accomplishments in 2023, such as the planning and execution of the second annual Ascent Launch Event at the SteamPlant, which sold out a crowd of 225 attendees.

Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Executive Director Jake Rishavy. Courtesy photo

According to the meeting packet, the EDC’s three phases of its strategic plan are:

“Entrepreneurial Support – Diversifying the local economy, growing from within, raising countywide income, creating net new year-round jobs for local residents.

Talent Pipeline – Building the workforce pipeline for public, private, and nonprofit employers in Chaffee County. Leveraging partnerships with local school districts and CMC to create more and better Work Based Learning (WBL) opportunities like internships, apprenticeships, and industry-sponsored projects.

Public Policy – With support of the Public Policy Committee of the Board of Directors, shared business community priorities and perspectives in numerous policy discussions within each of our partner jurisdictions and educated on key Policy Pillar issues.”

The Chaffee County EDC is a nonprofit funded by businesses, municipalities, and grants. Rishavy identified partnerships with municipalities like Buena Vista as “one of the most important relationships we have as an organization.”

Rishavy addressed the tension between the town and the nonprofit by emphasizing the “public policy” portion of the EDC’s strategic plan.

Growth, Water, and Business Goals are connected

This issue began with the temporary moratorium on new subdivision applications approved earlier in the year. The moratorium was intended to give the town more time to analyze and develop a plan for its water needs.

The moratorium passed at the May 23, 2023 meeting of the trustees in which the board received a number of public comments against the proposal.

From left to right: County Commissioner Keith Baker, Executive Director Colorado Broadband Office Brandy Reitter, Aristata Communications CEO Carlin Walsh, and Chaffee County EDC Executive Director Jake Rishavy have a conversation about upcoming broadband funding opportunities in Colorado. Photo by Carly Winchell.

At that meeting, CEO of Aristata Communications and Chaffee County EDC Board Member Carlin Walsh asserted the moratorium sends a message that Buena Vista isn’t open for business.

Later, at the BOT’s July 25, 2023 meeting, the board approved a new water dedication and allocation policy to address the water concerns which had originally prompted the 120-day moratorium.

While Rishavy wasn’t present at the first meeting, he did speak out in July against the plan. “Using water policy as a tool to manage growth seems inappropriate when other methods including zoning and subdivision approvals, which include public input, are already used for that purpose,” said Rishavy.

He encouraged the board to consider adding a provision to allow for extensions or to eliminate the expiration policy altogether.

On November 14, Rishavy spoke on those interactions. “I understand that the interaction may have rubbed some people the wrong way, or created the impression that we were advocating on the behalf of developers. . .  We were asked to serve a function and that function made a lot of sense,” said Rishavy. “If we came off as anything other than professional in that setting, I regret it.”

Rishavy explained he had been asked to speak for the development community on water policy rather than having developers speak individually. He also cited housing as one of the biggest factors in business growth and explained that housing relies on water, so the business community that the EDC represents pays close attention to water policy.

Buena Vista Trustees expressed frustration at how the situation was handled

“I believe the EDC can be valuable and a good partner for our community,” said Trustee Cindie Swisher. “When we voted for the short moratorium on building, due to water availability and to give us time to research water augmentation certificates and how they could fit into our water portfolio, we were threatened by the EDC that they would advertise BV as closed for business.”

Trustee Devin Rowe described members of the EDC as “disrespectful” saying they were shouting out during that discussion.

“The impression I got from that meeting was that the members of the EDC would support development no matter what, and, as a board, we represent the people here of BV,” continued Rowe. “We have to consider, as Cindie said, that water is not an infinite resource, and to really allocate water wisely and for the benefit of the people in this town.”

“It just makes it really hard when we’re giving money to the EDC when it’s not in line with the support of the people of this town,” concluded Rowe.

“Frankly, since that meeting I have not wanted to give you money,” said Rowe later in the evening.

Trustee Gina Lucrezi acknowledged how difficult managing expectations and appeasing different people can be. She maintained hope that the town and the EDC could move forward together and develop a better relationship.

Trustee Peter Hylton-Hinga identified the EDC as an interest group and described the interaction as adversarial. “For us to actually do economic development and grow as a community, we need to be more collaborative.” He requested that the EDC help support a more collaborative nature and communicate more effectively in the future by discussing concerns and providing less confrontational input.

Later in the conversation, Hylton-Hinga expressed support for the requested $15,000 since it gives them a seat at the table and will help with the important work that the EDC is doing in the community. The EDC’s $15,000 funding request was already included within the town’s 2024 draft budget.

Trustee Sue Cobb said it wasn’t clear to her that the EDC had been asked to represent the business community. “It seems like there was a much less escalated way to talk this through,” agreed Cobb.

She thanked Rishavy for his presentation and everything the EDC is bringing to the valley.

The trustees thanked Rishavy for giving them a chance to express their perspectives. “That’s how we will bridge the competing world views that seem to exist between public and private at the moment,” said Rishavy of the open communication and conversation of the evening.

“Our Board recognizes that this particular relationship is one of the most challenging we have,” said Rishavy. “We want to make that better and I think it starts with a lot more communication.”

“I would largely question who’s doing more public/private housing projects than BV,” said Town Administrator Brian Berger. He described BV’s efforts as “leaps and bounds ahead of the County, Poncha, and Salida combined.”

Berger acknowledged he wasn’t at the original meetings but emphasized the importance of recognizing Buena Vista’s efforts to develop workforce housing.

Rishavy acknowledged that there likely wouldn’t be perfect alignment between the public and private sectors but better communication would benefit both sides.

“We are at the table to be good partners. There’s work to do on our side. We’re committed to doing it, and I think that having better communication is the step towards bridging that gap,” concluded Rishavy.