Before undertaking economic development, people in rural Colorado should take more than a passing glance in the looking glass, then turn to their neighbors, Mike Wisdom advised attendees of the Economic Summit 2004.
Wisdom, director of the San Luis Valley Resources Group, was one of the featured speakers during the summit last week at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel and Conference Center.
Wisdom, who grew up on the eastern plains of Colorado in the farm community of Wray, preaches the gospel of common sense, self-help and making the most of what you've got. But instead of using the term "economic development," he prefers "community development."
"In economic development the most important thing is to create a job. That's 'C.' Then you retain a job. That's 'R.' Then attract a job, 'A.' Then preserve a job, 'P.' And that's crap," Wisdom said. "The only value you'll ever have is when you invest in a person."
People in Wray spent decades talking about the need to purchase weightlifting equipment for the youth of the community before they began to think small, and raised large sums through seemingly insignificant projects.
The community discovered that the value of aluminum cans hauled to the local landfill annually was $80,000 and challenged the three schools in town to compete to see who could recycle the most. They asked townsfolk what they really liked to do and found a man willing to auction off 30-minute rides in his airplane. They even found a woman who agreed to bake and sell a pie a month for the rest of her life.
Don't laugh -- at $10 a pie, it starts to add up. Before the people of Wray were done, they had raised $2.3 million and in addition to weightlifting equipment, they installed a therapeutic exercise pool in a new community center salvaged from a condemned school.
Wisdom is convinced every town has the resources among its residents to make a more desirable community.
When he took his self-help theory of community and economic development to the San Luis Valley, Wisdom sought to apply common sense to find ways to derive more value from the region's fields of grain and potatoes.
"Colorado has 44 microbreweries. Where do you think every single one of them used to get their malt and barley?" Wisdom asked his audience. "All of it came from Seattle."
Wisdom convened the brew masters of New Belgium, O'Dells and Breckenridge brewing companies and convinced them to consider barley from the San Luis Valley.
Finally, Wisdom left those attending Economic Summit 2004 with a piece of wisdom from his own father: "All citizens have responsibility to one another."