DCI had our fifth webinar of the series covering various topics on the response to COVID-19 and how people can support each other while maintaining the CDC’s recommendation of social distancing. Thursday’s webinar included a presentation from DCI partners, Brad Segal, President of Progressive Urban Management Associates (P.U.M.A.) and DCI Board Member, Erin Lyng, Associate Vice President of P.U.M.A..
Brad and Erin walked us through the response and recovery framework P.U.M.A. has put together for communities and organizations to adapt and The call was facilitated by DCI board member, Terri Takata-Smith of Downtown Boulder and her colleague Julia Simpson.
RECOVERY FRAMEWORK OVERVIEWP.U.M.A. is building this framework in conjunction with Downtown Colorado, Inc. with the intention that communities and organizations will customize it and adapt to their needs and metrics. This framework is also meant to be dynamic, as conditions and updates are changing quickly. Nobody knows the exact timeline of the virus and when a vaccine will be available, so this is providing ideas for planning on the possibilities and where we think things are going.
Three Phases to the FrameworkSTABILIZATION - Estimated 3-6 months (we are currently in this phase)RECOVERY - Estimated 3-18 months (moving into this phase slowly)NEW NORMAL - Estimated beyond 18 months
The following matrix shows the various actions and organizational responses considered by phase.
Crisis management, establishing organizational boundaries
Redefine downtown organizational value,
Information + Support, Inventory of businesses/tenants, Locally focused promotions, Interventions + troubleshooting, mobilize support form front line workers and hardest hit populations/sectors, Decision-making tables/advocacy, anticipate permanent closures, keep it clean + safe, Prepare for phased release + activities, Understand market strengths + vulnerabilities
Identify cash reserve, reallocate/postpone expenditures, essential operations + cushion for unknown ahead, Understand federal/state assistance programs, Solidify local partnerships, Reallocate effort/resources to economic stabilization, Relationships, DCI, Local market promotions + visibility
Phased re-opening, use of local + regional markets
Continue information/support/inventory/intervention, Create/strengthen local volunteer platforms, Promotions to lure local + regional markets, Phase in events proportional to confidence in public health, Forge new alliances with property owners + influencers, Test new concepts in vacant storefronts, Mobilize business community to address equity issues, Explore procurement opportunities to support small businesses, Consider new options/flexibility for affordable living options, Create locally-funded recovery investment fund, Strategic planning to set new course, Identify funding as local tax base recovers
Develop longer-term funding strategy/diversify, Expand local market promotions + visibility, Strengthen internal research/advocacy to represent all downtown interests, Create locally-based special events that instill pride and ownership, Strategic planning to align organization with revised vision/plan
Beyond 18 months
STABILIZATIONCrisis management, establishing organizational boundaries
Questions and comments regarding Stage 1 Stabilization
This pandemic has brought about the notion that it might be a good idea to have a public health expert on governing boards.
As was mentioned before, there is an increased need to address equity and inclusion. Any thoughts on a tactical response in Stage 1?
The response will vary depending on geography, for example rural response will look a little different than the urban response. But there also may be a political shift that puts more emphasis on topics of healthcare and wages which this current pandemic has further showcased inequities. Housing is also a big issue which the current state of things may prompt needed changes at a quicker pace than before.
Do you have suggestions or resources on how to best manage change for steps as we move through the framework?
The framework is meant to be adapted to the users’ situation, as well as have the ability to be dynamic. P.U.M.A. encourages framework users to develop their own metrics and own forms of measurement such as the use of their own budget, and understanding of their own bandwidth.
Are there any tactics coming out for Stage 1 responses specific to tourism-reliant communities?
Think of the response more of one that is gradual. As of right now, really hunker down and be reliant on the local residents and the local downtown. Fully use and encourage downtown organizations to be information resources for the community and encourage the continuation of community-mindedness. Look to local community champions as well.
RECOVERY Phased reopening, use of local and regional markets
Questions and comments regarding Stage 2 Recovery
Do you think that there will be a shift from urban/ downtowns lifestyles to a more suburban or rural due to the virus?
There won’t be a significant change. Older demographics are more affected by the current state of things as a life or death situation, as younger generations are in danger but have probability of recovery. Younger demographics want the same things as everyone of connecting with others, having experiences, and enjoy putting disposable income towards music and restaurants, etc. There will most likely be a continued acceleration of people moving out of “superstar” cities because of housing affordability. There may be a possibility of a change in urban apartment design and the need for personal space as being more marketable since with this virus people are spending significantly more time at home.
Do you expect a decline in property tax revenue?
There may be a near-term erosion in value, plan for a 10-15% decline but not a long term trend. This is a very deep disruptive economic episode, but is relatively brief with a timeline of 18 months to 2 years. There will probably be a shift on IF we need a physical location for those who can work remotely.
Locally based events that help instill community pride and ownership, how do you envision these being funded?
By BIDS, property owners, and businesses, as well as local, state, federal, and/or foundation grant sources. The state and federal agencies are working on funding options related to Covid.
Communities that may have funds set aside for events, are coming up with creative ways to adjust and support their local businesses and community. The creativity includes finding ways to bring communities together in new ways, and trying different things.
Travel restrictions, as well as resource concerns, have caused us to localize. Should we pivot from regionalization to localization and how do we try to balance those strategies?
Rural markets are in a reinvention stage and can use this as an opportunity to look at diversification options. This is a time to relook at the assets of towns and counties. There is an opportunity to draw from Colorado resources and more people rediscovering their backyard.
To follow up on the urban/suburban question, you talked about lifestyle. Do you think there will be a shift in where businesses will want to locate their office? Will the need for more square footage drive commercial offices toward the fringes?
More information about our guest speakers:
Brad Segal, President, P.U.M.A.P.U.M.A.’s founder and president, Brad Segal, has extensive experience in downtown management and community development as both a practitioner and consultant. A self-proclaimed “urban therapist,” Brad is one of the nation’s leading authorities on downtown trends and issues, reinventing downtown management organizations and forming business improvement districts to finance them, and pioneering efforts to create healthy communities. Prior to establishing P.U.M.A. in 1993, he designed and managed economic development programs as senior director of the Downtown Denver Partnership.
Erin Lyng, Associate Vice President, P.U.M.A.Erin Lyng manages a variety of projects at P.U.M.A. from adaptive reuse feasibility studies to rural economic development strategies to strategic plans for downtown organizations. Erin also leads P.U.M.A.’s role as the outreach and technical assistance provider for the Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund (CO4F), a statewide program that funds healthy food retail in underserved communities. Her past experience in nonprofit public relations, communications strategy, advertising and digital media brings unique perspectives to project work at P.U.M.A.
Recovery & Response Framework
DCI had our fourth webinar of the series covering various topics on the response to COVID-19 and how people can support each other while maintaining the CDC’s recommendation of social distancing. Thursday’s webinar included presentations from three DCI partners and members: Kim Woodworth, Operations Director of the Economic Development Council of Colorado (EDCC); Kimberlee Mckee, Executive Director of the Longmont DDA and Chelsea Rosty, Director of Business Innovation for the City of Montrose.
Kim Woodworth shared results and initial lessons from EDCC’s “COVID-19 Municipal and County Business Response and Recovery Survey”, which municipalities from across the state responded to. Kimberlee Mckee discussed Longmont’s COVID-19 Response Plan, and the actions taken by the city and local businesses to galvanize the community during the pandemic. Chelsea Rosty outlined the three-pronged approach that the City of Montrose is utilizing to support business in their community: cooperative marketing grants, a small business emergency loan fund, and a sales tax deferral program for small businesses. which focused on the emergency funding opportunities that are available for businesses during this time of COVID-19.
Kim Woodworth, Economic Development Council of Colorado-Kim Woodworth facilitates the Council’s daily operations, coordinates meetings for the EDCC Board and assists in committee’s work plans, marketing and communications, and event planning and coordination for EDCC’s Drive|Lead|Succeed Conference and bi-yearly Regional Economic Development Forums. Prior to joining the EDCC, Woodworth served as operations manager for the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. Economic Development Council of Colorado Website
Kimberlee Mckee, Longmont DDA- Kimberlee McKee has been the Executive Director of the Longmont Downtown Development Authority since 2011. Prior to taking this position, she was the President of Downtown Akron Partnership, a Special Improvement District in Akron, Ohio. Through her experience in both a DDA and SID, she has worked with a diverse group of stakeholders and municipal leaders to develop projects, programs and events. Throughout her career she has specialized in strategic programs, marketing and event management. She has been working with the community to implement an Arts and Entertainment District in Longmont and they have been named a Colorado Creative District. Longmont DDA Website
Chelsea Rosty, City of Montrose- In her current role as Director of Business Innovation, Chelsea manages the city’s DART (Development and Revitalization Team) where historic preservation and local business vitality are primary focuses. Through DART, Chelsea handles the administration of the city’s business and workforce housing incentives program. Additionally, Chelsea oversees communication for the city. Chelsea has 13 years’ experience in marketing and community development with an emphasis in community engagement and the outdoor industry. City of Montrose Website
COVID-19 Municipal and County Business Response and Recovery Survey- This survey is based on 40 municipalities and counties in Colorado on their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The results show that most businesses need flexible funding options rather than traditional loans, and there is still a lot of uncertainty on how long funding will be needed to bridge the COVID-19 induced revenue gap. The most impacted industries in Colorado, so far, are: tourism, retail, small businesses, personal care facilities and primary employers To see the full results of the survey in this link: Survey Results Presentation.
Advance Longmont 2.0 COVID-19 Response- Longmont’s Economic Partner Group is composed of local and regional partners who have worked to coordinate resources on the COVID-19 Business Resource Hub website to help give businesses a single place to find help during the pandemic. Longmont DDA has created slack channels and facebook groups for businesses to communicate directly with each other and share information in the rapidly changing economic landscape. Weekly group virtual meetings with retail, restaurant, breweries, and personal services have been started as well.
Longmont Social Media Campaigns
City of Montrose Cooperative Marketing Grants- Montrose has developed a grant program for groups of two to three local businesses to create a joint marketing initiative. The City is offering $1,000 per approved applicant group toward marketing their business. Cooperative Marketing Grant website
City of Montrose Small Business Emergency Loan Fund- The City of Montrose is able to use funds from their now-defunct Downtown Development Authority’s tax increment financing fund to create a $300,000 loan program that is dedicated to providing small businesses with 0% loans and no repayment for at least 12 months. The loans of up to $5,000 per applicant are designed to assist businesses forced to close by state mandate or who have suffered significant financial loss due to COVID-19. City Montrose COVID-19 Business Resource website
City of Montrose Sales Tax Deferral for Montrose- This program allows businesses with less than $2 million in gross annual sales to have the option to delay city sales tax remittance for a 90-day period. The city estimates this move will keep approximately $3 million in the hands of area business owners who are trying to navigate through this difficult time. Sales Tax Deferment Information website
DCI’s Upcoming Event: Colorado Challenge Summit | April 14, 2020 | 1:30 - 4:30 PM
The Colorado Challenge Community Summit will be online due to the COVID-19 situation. Delegates from all over Colorado who are working to turn challenges to opportunities will convene during this virtual summit. We will gather ideas and feedback to ensure DCI continues to have the resources you need! REGISTER HERE
DCI had our third webinar of the series covering various topics on the response to COVID-19 and how people can support each other while maintaining the CDC’s recommendation of social distancing. Thursday’s webinar included a presentation from DCI partner Mike O’Donnell of Colorado Lending Source and Suzi Bahnsen of Boulder SBDC which focused on the emergency funding opportunities that are available for businesses during this time of COVID-19.
Mike and Suzi gave insight into the intricacies of the Paycheck Protection Program and the EIDL disaster loans that are available to all businesses, independent contractors, self-employed, 501c3s and 501c19s. The application for the program is simple. Review the details below. The webinar was facilitated by DCI board member, Terri Takata-Smith of Downtown Boulder and her colleague Julia Simpson.
Mike O’Donnell, Executive Director, Colorado Lending Source If you’ve met Colorado Lending Source’s Executive Director, Mike O’Donnell you know that he is fiercely passionate about the state of small business within our communities, and that he has a “Kansas” accent. What you may not know is that his influence is why Colorado Lending Source is who they are today. Mike’s entrepreneurial and ‘gnomerific’ spirit has been in the SBA lending world since the mid 90’s. Under his leadership Colorado Lending Source has transformed from an average SBA lender to an incredibly diverse, mission-focused, economic development organization with a team of people intent on helping small businesses startup and grow up. Colorado Lending Source Website
Suzi Bahnsen, Digital Marketing, Boulder SBDCSuzi Bahnsen is a branding expert that helps companies strategize and leverage the most effective sales and marketing planning to capitalize on their time, money and resources. With over 20 years of experience as a sales and marketing professional, she has been a CMO, Director, Sales Executive and the owner of a Design and Marketing Agency. Her experience as a business owner, combined with her background overseeing marketing and sales teams, provides her with a unique understanding that comes through as she continues to share and grow. As a consultant and trainer for the SBDC, she lends her advice and support to businesses with a desire to thrive in a digital age.Boulder SBDC Website
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)Application Open: Friday, April 3rd for companies and sole proprietors Friday, April 10th for self-employed available until June 30thAmount: Your average payroll cost multiplied by 2.5 Interest Rate: 0.5% and a term of 2 years with no fee to the borrowersTimeframe it will cover: 8 weeks and then the amount is forgiven if all staff are brought back, and paid the same as they usually are, most of loan is forgiven in 6 monthsTimeframe for it to arrive: Can arrive as soon as same day Requirements: Tax ID number, some banks may have additional requirements Who it applies to: Companies, sole proprietors, self-employed, 501c3s, 501c19sLending Source: List of Colorado Lenders
Paycheck Protection Program Helpful Information from Colorado Lending Source
Paycheck Protection Program Application
Sample Paycheck Protection Program Application
EIDL Disaster Advance LoanUp to $10,000Close Date: No closing date currently, but probably sometime next yearFunding Source: Government, through their website
EIDL Disaster Loan Application
Gaps occurring Not much relief happening regarding developers and landlords with rent payments
QuestionsCan you get both EIDL and PPP?Yes as long as they’re not for the same purposes and you can refinance disaster loans into PPP loans
How do businesses that rent booth space access PPP?Similar to any other business, apply with the tax ID number and needed information
Add your contact and links to your resources to our state-wide Covid Response Spreadsheet. COVID-19 Resource Spreadsheet -- add your contact information
Business Survey: DCI and NRC/Polco are working with the State of Colorado on a Business Survey. When ready, you can create a community profile on Polco. The community is able to see and keep their own results once they have at least 10 respondents.
Business Support Survey: DCI and NRC/Polco are working to create a comprehensive list of the organizations supporting business throughout the state to collect information about what is being done and how we can support local efforts.
DCI had our second webinar of our series covering various topics on the response to COVID-19 and how people can support each other while maintaining the CDC’s recommendation of social distancing. Thursday’s webinar included an educational presentation from DCI partner Michelle Kobayashi of National Research Center/Polco about effective engagement that allowed community representatives to share ideas and challenges. DCI’s calls also encourage sharing of experiences, struggles, and new ideas for addressing engagement with the community during the current social distancing.
Michelle Kobayashi, NRC/POLCO is in the early stages of surveying impacts on businesses and communities from COVID-19. Economic impact is at the top of people’s mind. During the crisis, people want to hear that something is being done, which coincides with the important engagement aspect and hearing what challenges communities are facing, including consideration of the economy. The webinar was facilitated by DCI board member, Terri Takata-Smith of Downtown Boulder and her colleague Julia Simpson.
CONSIDERING EFFECTIVE ENGAGEMENT
TOOLS + RESOURCES
2 way engagement: comments, feedback from businesses, residents, etc. to be used in decision making efforts
Speed: get info and feedback tools out to people
Inform Policy Decisions: hope that sharing of struggles will get to policymakers
Tap into Wisdom of Crowds: sharing of experiences, creative innovations, and new ways of running businesses
Empower Community Stakeholders: things they can do to have some power over the pandemic
Virtual: zoom, google hangouts
Slack. One sheet instructions for using Slack.
DCI COVID-19 Resource Webpage
Colorado Main Street Resources
In response to the closures resulting from social distancing measures to address impacts of the Coronavirus, DCI has started a webinar series, which will occur every Thursday from 9:00-10:00am covering various topics on the response to COVID-19 and how people can support each other while maintaining the CDC’s recommendation of social distancing. DCI’s Thursday calls are part of DCI’s initiative to convene commercial districts to share resources and ideas during this time of COVID-19. With only two days notice, 94 people registered for the first call.
DCI’s Commercial District Members, from Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Downtown Development Authorities (DDAs), Main Streets, Creative Districts, and local governments are taking the lead in supporting small business and communicating with citizens. These unprecedented closures caused by COVID-19 are encouraging the sharing of resources, streamlining communications. innovative thinking, and creative solutions to support local businesses and members of the community. DCI’s goal is to help establish a go to resource for you to access peer community responses and share ideas on a regular basis throughout this crisis.
On Thursday, March 19th DCI had our first webinar of the series. The first webinar was led by DCI board member, Terri Takata-Smith of Downtown Boulder and her colleague Julia Simpson, who shared the Downtown Boulder response to COVID-19 as it is evolving. DCI also shared a spreadsheet for commercial district leadership to add the links resources and contact information for each community’s response efforts so that we can collect and share the information being developed in each community. The bulk of the call was different districts sharing their ideas and responses to generate a great list of things we can do right now!
Read some of the ideas generated and join us this Thursday to share more ideas to grow this list!
COMMERCIAL DISTRICT RESPONSE TO COVID 19 BUSINESS COMMUNICATION TOOLS
Develop stronger communication networks and use tools that make it easy for businesses to receive and share information!
COMMUNITY COMMUNICATION TOOLS
Make sure the community knows how to support businesses and protect their safety!
INITIATIVES FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF BUSINESS
Different types of business can respond in different ways so be sure to think through how to help each kind!
1. RETAIL SUPPORT
2. RESTAURANT SUPPORT
3. SERVICE SUPPORT INITIATIVES
PARTNERSHIPS IN RESPONDING
Community networks are there for just this reason and many groups are working to help. Make sure to convene the groups and share your initiatives so that they can support and add to the resources available.
WANT MORE RESOURCES?
WHAT IS DCI DOING TO HELP DURING THIS CRISIS?
· Weekly Commercial District + COVID calls. DCI will convene weekly calls for commercial districts to discuss responses and resources to identify the items we can do right now as the crisis is unfolding. DCI is writing up the conversation and will begin recording the webinars for your convenience.
· COVID Response Resources. DCI will house a COVID response page on our website that shares resources and links to community resources for easy access.
· State-wide Business Survey. DCI is partnering with National Research Center and POLCO to distribute and analyze a state-wide survey of businesses to understand their needs and establish a response network.
· Regional Council. DCI maintains a Regional Council of representatives around the state who are in place to share and collect information specific to each region. We are going to start hosting calls through this group with our members and other interested communities to ensure that we are planning for and communicating the needs of each region appropriately.
· 2020 IN THE GAME. DCI will revise our Colorado Challenge Community Summit on April 14th to be a virtual event geared toward developing multi-faceted approaches for our national, state-wide, and local responses to this type of pandemic. We will look at our demographics and sales tax trends, and impacts of Coronavirus, and flesh out an action plan for housing, workforce, and small business support.
Did you know that Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) has an AmeriCorps VISTA program with VISTAs placed around the state working towards build capacity for better community development? DCI currently has 8 VISTAs that make up our team. We make it a priority to develop awesome and useful professional development tools and trainings so our VISTAs can best serve their communities and their careers.
Recently, Angelica Wedell, Director of Marketing and Communications for Polco/National Research Center gave a training on The 6 Persuasion Principles and Getting Residents to Engage.
Local governments these days are using multiple channels to reach out to the community. From digital to in-person opportunities, well-connected communicators are using them all: social media, apps like NextDoor, surveys online and by mail, press releases, public meetings (streamed and in-person), city-sponsored events, and more. Even with all this, many local governments still struggle to get more residents (especially from traditionally hard-to-reach demographics) to engage. One way we can improve on everything from response rates on our surveys to convincing folks to sign up for the town e-newsletter is to pay more attention to the words and language we are using to promote and to ask people to engage with us. This is where the 6 Persuasion Principles come in. These principles draw on human psychology to help us understand WHY and WHAT makes people take a desired action. This is knowledge that effective marketers rely on - and that local government communicators can benefit from too. You can draw on one or more of these persuasion principles to help you write more compellingly - in everything from a Tweet to a sign at a booth at the fair.
The 6 Principles Include: Scarcity, Reciprocity, Authority, Consistency, Consensus, Liking. To bring it all together Angelica presented The Conversion Trinity. Why should your audience care? You need to be able to answer that question yourself and set up the call to action with relevance and showing the value.
The VISTAs will use these principles to engage their communities with their projects addressing Transit & Mobility, Workforce Housing, Branding, Resiliency, and more!
If you want to find out more about Polco and Angelica's work, click here. Also, if there are plenty of times where you are asked to do small surveys or single-question polls. And there are times where you'd like to be able to easily do your own web surveys for your members, your residents, and more. I'm pleased to say that the Polco civic engagement - web survey platform is now free! It's designed specifically with municipal organizations in mind! So it gives you dashboard results - right away - that give you great analyses, it's easy to use, and the more consistent you are with it - you can even grow a following of people who keep answering your questions over time! Really cool. You can sign up for the free version here: https://polco.us/n/admin/registration
If want more webinar goodness - check out the one I'm doing this March! I'm talking about Top 8 Priorities for Local Governments, and how resident feedback can help you best focus your efforts. You can get all the details and sign up here: https://www.n-r-c.com/keynote-webinar/
Learn more about the VISTA program, here. Contact Kylie Brown, firstname.lastname@example.org for more details!
Colfax Ave, Denver’s historic main street is an integral part of the city’s culture, history, character, and contributing component to Denver’s identity. The identity, nature, and character of the ‘longest, wickedest street in America’ is composed of all the buildings, public spaces, and people in the corridor. An important part of placemaking is the preservation of historic buildings as well as smaller scale development.
The preservation of Colfax is currently under pressure with the various barriers and rules that discourage reuse, renovations of older buildings, and transit-oriented development. Hilarie Portell, Executive Director of the Colfax Mayfair Business Improvement District pointed out that “under current zoning, 93% of new development in the past 10 years on Colfax has been single-story, national chains and drive-throughs.” The regulations in place encourage new buildings over the rich in character, smaller scale, historic focused developments. Portell pointed out that “it’s easier and cheaper to demolish an old building and build a new one.”
The lack of consideration for smaller-scale development, protection of historic character, and the corridor’s atmosphere negatively affects the economy and people’s well-being. Areas with smaller scale, multi-use buildings, and variations of building ages, and types contribute to positive economic activity. The National Trust for Historic Preservation found that “older, smaller buildings provide space for a strong local economy.” In addition to the effect on economy there is an effect of people’s well-being through poor air quality from the traffic on Colfax because there hasn’t been a focus on enhanced transit options. People’s well-being is also affected by increasing taxes and cost of rent. Property taxes are increasing which increases rent cost, and affordability of living in an area. As Portell emphasized “neighbors along Colfax and in the East Area are experiencing homelessness, hunger, and displacement—now.” All of these topics needs to be addressed with a new approach and some creativity.
Join us Thursday, March 5 from 4:30 – 7:30pm at the Carla Madison Recreation Center Rooftop for a discussion and brainstorming session to address building small solutions to the missing commercial middle on main street corridors. In this forum we’ll share new approaches to zoning, adaptive reuse, business support services and property taxes. Lessons learned on Colfax may be applicable to other neighborhood nodes, community corridors and main streets in Colorado. Let’s start a wave of development possibilities that protect and enable small business and property owners to stay put, grow, and thrive!
For more information similar to what will be discussed at the event check out Hilarie Portell’s article, “We Can Do Better on Colfax” and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Report, “Older, Smaller, Better: Measuring how the character of building and blocks influences urban vitality.”
According to a national survey that interviewed 752 college graduates (aged 24-27) across the country, twenty-somethings nowadays transition into adulthood in one of three ways—they’re either Sprinters, Wanderers, or Stragglers:
Sprinters (35% of the young adults surveyed) jump right into their career after college or are on a path to a successful launch after completing additional education.
Note: the survey did not take family wealth or income into account, so some of these “Sprinters” could arguably have other advantages.
While we expect most graduates to find their way in life after college, Sprinters make up only about one-third of today’s graduates. And despite our current low unemployment rate, only a third of college graduates believe they will leave college with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. As for me, I left college more unclear about my future than ever, and majoring in Economics, Sustainability & Society—a subject with no direct career path—didn’t help me narrow my focus one bit.
So, I was one of those two-thirds of graduates. But what I’ve found out so far in my career journey, is that regardless of the stigma that young professionals should follow the herd, and rush off into the professional world—there is more than one pathway to success after college. And for that reason, I decided to take a gap year before I went full-steam-ahead into my professional career.
AmeriCorps is often thought of as the internal Peace Corps for the US, where volunteers work in a broad spectrum of public service sectors including community development, children and youth, education, environment, health, homelessness, housing, hunger, and eldercare. Since the AmeriCorps VISTA program offers a temporary position within nonprofit and public sector spaces, this opportunity was very appealing to me during my post-college transition.
For VISTA, service terms are only 1 year, and during that year your student loans can be deferred. Once you've completed your year of service, you receive 1 year of non-competitive eligibility for employment in the federal government, as well as an education award that can go towards a graduate degree or help repay a decent-sized chunk of your student loans.
The only catch for me was, like the Peace Corps, your Americorps VISTA living allowance is based on the poverty rates for a single individual living in your geographic area. So, as someone who has had the privilege to live above the poverty level my entire life, I knew that if I was going to follow through with completing the entire year of service, it would have to be somewhere in the US that had many free activities to do outside of work. For me, that meant living in the Rocky Mountain West. More specifically, in the state of Colorado.
I was very strategic about where I wanted to serve. And luckily, Community Builders (CB) nonprofit presented the perfect opportunity for me to get my feet wet in strategic communications and digital media. But, before I decided to move across the country, I did what most people do when making big life decisions - I made a pros and cons list.
Moving to Glenwood Springs, CO & doing VISTA: Pros and Cons
Clearly the pros outweighed the cons, and a year later, these benefits don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what I actually gained from this experience. For starters, I obtained valuable professional experience in digital media and strategic communications—and ended up thriving in it.
When I first joined Community Builders, there was no one doing social media, or strategic communications work, except for me and our Communications Director (who was hired 2 months before)—so, we were both extremely new to the organization. Since then, I have engaged in a wide array of communications capacity building activities. VISTA life is, for the most part, very cohesive to typical #nonprofitlife, so I have worn many hats and was tasked with a wide array of priorities over the past year.
For example, I managed and crafted social media content, pitched, interviewed and wrote stories for our website’s Insights page, and contributed to a comprehensive brand and website redesign. I also interviewed nationally-renowned leaders, such as Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler (to name a few). From collaborating on all aspects of CB’s digital content and social media planning, to facilitating and documenting their Brownfields redevelopment workshop in Silverton, Colorado. The thing that I am most proud of after working for CB, is being able to learn, grow and connect with a progressive team of professionals, while contributing my voice and perspective to a robust nonprofit organization.
VISTA is not for everybody—and it’s built that way. Being able to resource, make and sustain connections with people in your community is vital—not only for completing your year of service, but thriving in your professional career after. I have benefitted so much from knowing that I wanted to gain digital media experience while also working within nonprofit spaces. Now, going forward into my next job, I have a larger range of both hard and soft skills, quantitative ways to talk about my achievements, and confidence in client-facing roles.
Overall, this year has opened doors for me in ways that I had never thought were possible. I have been able to grow and develop my skills in such a way, that following my year of service, I am working as an independent contractor, with a client list that is growing by the day. This goes to show that for Wanderers and Stragglers like me, taking your time to figure things out, can benefit your career journey in monumental ways. Even the Harvard Business Review, found that college graduates who took a gap year through a rapidly expanding programs, including AmeriCorps, BridgeEDU, and Global Citizen Year, reported that they were more comfortable with risk and more resilient in their professional journey.
With that being the case, if it’s right for you, slow down the conveyor belt from college into the professional world, and take the time to figure out what is best for you. I can happily say that by doing a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I was able to more fully consider my career options, brush up on my skills, and pinpoint what truly interests me. At the end of the day, if it’s a good match for you, a gap year can be one of your best years yet.
Many festivals include public art, community projects, local culture, and community engagement but The Swoop of the Cranes in Monte Vista, Colorado has it all. This year, the town has something very special planned between the months of March and September!
Monte Vista will have 5’ tall 12-gauge steel silhouettes of Sandhill Cranes mounted on lamp posts up and down I-160/1st Avenue. The Steel art pieces are painted and decorated by local artists of the San Luis Valley and will be up at the start of the Monte Vista Crane Festival until September.
The project is community focused with consideration of local business sponsorship opportunities of the steel cranes and the inclusion of local artists. Monte Vista encourages locals and visitors to participate in the enjoyment of the steel cranes through voting for their favorite. Prizes will be given out in September based on votes.
The project is community focused with consideration of local business sponsorship opportunities of the steel cranes and the inclusion of local artists. Monte Vista encourages locals and visitors to participate in the enjoyment of the steel cranes through voting for their favorite. Prizes will be given out in September based on votes.
The cranes will be auctioned off in September unless they are purchased by the sponsors or artists. The proceeds from the auction going towards downtown Monte Vista beautification efforts.
Cranes are an important part of Monte Vista culture and community identity. Sandhill Cranes make a migratory stop in Monte Vistas Wildlife Refuge each year in March, which of course sparked the creation of the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival. The hope for this community art project is that there will be a continued commitment to and recognition of cranes in Monte Vista and that it will continue for years to come.
The decade is almost over and DCI has been helping Colorado communities through it all. We have been so blessed this year, as every year, this decade and for 37 years, to work with all of you downtown champions. As always, we would like to specifically thank all of our members, sponsors, and partners for making our work possible. We had an incredibly fun and busy 2019 (including more than a few deviously timed snow storms). We expanded our Challenge Program to make more of an impact than ever, held several series of symposiums and trainings for redevelopment and reinvestment, and completely revamped our brand. In 2020, we will have a strong focus on our membership with the help of our Membership Coordinator VISTA, Becca Elder. So, look forward to hearing how to get more from your membership with DCI!
We want to say thank you to two people that moved on to new adventures this year from DCI.
First, thank you to Andrew Curtis who served as DCI’s VISTA Leader for two years. Andrew not only helped to grow our VISTA program, but he also used his incredible gift and skill for graphics and design to make us look better than ever. Andrew is now using his design skills getting his Masters of Landscape Architecture at Cornell.We miss Andrew as a presence in Colorado as well as his curiosity, passion, and intellect he brought to our office.
And a special thank you to Val Peterson who served as our Communication Capacity Builder VISTA the past year. During her service, Val was able to coordinate everything that DCI does including all communications, events, the conference, and grant communities. She has helped DCI members, board, and staff build community and economy in Colorado. Outside of all the incredible work she did during her year, the most important thing Val contributed to DCI was her passion for people and her truly caring spirit. We already miss you Val.
We started the year having conversations about downtown improvement districting in Greeley and Glenwood Springs. This theme continued through the year with our multi-part series focusing on strategies for increasing investment and financing development on the Western Slope starting with Durango and Montrose. The goal of these symposiums was to blend informal connections, case studies, and interactive dialogue to reshape ideas for redevelopment and reinvestment in Western Slope communities. You can see the recaps for Durango here and Montrose here. The third part of this series will take place on February 13th in Grand Junction!
This year, we have focused a large portion of our programming on our Urban Renewal Training Series centered on urban renewal in rural communities. In some ways the combination of urban and rural is counterintuitive, however, rural Colorado is faced with a pattern of disinvestment that results in a loss of historic buildings, housing, and workforce. Urban renewal helps these communities engage with leaders from the public and private sector to review the tools, opportunities, and components for designing quality partnerships and projects to enable successful redevelopment. The communities who learned about how urban renewal might best help finance their development goals were: Lamar, Breckenridge, Florence, Fountain, Montrose, Wheat Ridge, and all that attended our 3rd annual Southern Colorado Urban Renewal Summit.
Testimonials from these events:
[My biggest takeaway from the event was] The importance of collaboration and partnerships in accomplishing community goals. Also, the necessity of strong and clear leadership in shaping the organizational culture needed to implement an ambitious vision. – Attendee, Durango Western Slope Redevelopment and Reinvestment Symposium
The positive role that Urban Renewal has played in Western Slope communities and the challenging process involved in establishing a URA and crafting the plan to suit your community. I also learned a lot about affordable housing and what is involved in pro forma development for projects. - Kim Grant, Colorado Preservation, Inc.
Despite the Bomb Cyclone 2k19, IN THE GAME 2019 was our most successful conference yet! As we continue with our out-of-the-box conference format, IN THE GAME, the more we see how much collaboration, energy, and inspiration it provides for all of our attendees. As always, our conference differs from most where instead of using the typical formula of session, break, session, etc., we got our participants out of their seats engaging with one another and seeing the City of Aspen first hand. This year we took our conference location back into the mountains in Aspen, and showcased the innovative ideas coming from the community through our speakers, lunches, and tours. Our theme for this year's conference was "Stewardship, Equity, and Unintended Consequences" where our discussions investigated ensuring that all members of our communities are heard in the process of building stronger communities. You can see the entire recap here. We hope to continue these themes of resiliency and collaboration and we can't wait to see you all IN THE GAME in Colorado Springs in 2020! Registration is now open here! Early Bird prices will end on January 31st!
Here’s what attendees had to say:
IN THE GAME was so beneficial for me. Working for a Downtown is a unique job, so to be surrounded by other like-organizations is a great way to brainstorm, ask questions, and share issues or topics that may be going on in other downtowns. I'm really looking forward to next year! – Caitlyn Love, Downtown Grand Junction
Each year gets better and better. We find value in the ideas, people and connections that this conference creates. As a consulting firm, it's great to have dialogue with our current and potential clients across the state – Karen Current, DHM Design
IN THE GAME was an immensely useful, inspiring, thought-provoking experience. Seeing the passion and commitment with which leaders from all over the state are addressing their communities was very energizing. - Alan Fletcher, Aspen Music
Our Colorado Challenge Program expanded once again this year to become a comprehensive approach to technical assistance. DCI has expanded the program to act as a year-round team-building accelerator focused on pin-pointing and implementing a plan of work and proposal that engages public, private, and nonprofit partners to transform challenge into opportunity. The five-phase challenge program focuses on:
The work is rooted in a community driven process supported by seed investment, connections, mentorship, educational components and a ﬁnancing institute. Outcomes of the program are focused on using place-based initiatives to strengthen economies; increase community health and wellness; build civic engagement and resiliency; achieve housing affordability and equity; and improve quality of life for all residents.DCI has also created a special Colorado Challenge Accelerator Program (CCAP) Membership type this year that is exclusive to Challenge Communities and Program Partners. New and previous communities will all benefit from this membership type. Contact email@example.com for more information!
The Challenge Communities this year were Aspen, Center, Eagle, the Southwest Corridor, and Trinidad. The outcomes of the challenge studios this year included:
5 action reports following the IN THE GAME Challenge Studios (read the reports here)
4 community activations – including beautiful community dinner tables and human arcades
1 Downtown Assessment report for Eagle
1 VISTA site creation for Southern Colorado Repertory Theatre
Here’s what the communities had to say:
It was my first time and by participating in the Center Studio Workshop, I saw the immense amount of expertise all of the attendees brought to the table to learn and glean from. It was invaluable. I also loved being able to learn about local projects and gain lessons learned for my part of the state. – Jeff Owsley, Community Relations – San Luis Valley, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority
We had a challenge studio at the In the Games conference and for the first time collaborated with our neighboring communities of Silverton and Ouray. You can try to do a lot over phone calls and emails, but there is nothing like working on a project in one room together. The addition of conference attendees from across the state helped to provide insight into our challenges and ways to refine our project with an outside lens. As a result, our three communities are working together to pursue grants at a state and national level for our region. -Kiki Hooten, Local First La Plata