Economic Development Class and DCI Shapes Recovery Planning in La Plata County

09/17/2020 10:19 AM | Kylie Brown (Administrator)

The COVID-19 Pandemic struck the world in early 2020 and resulted in a shutdown of the state of Colorado on March 25, 2020. The stay-at-home order not only impacted University of Colorado at Denver (UCD), but dramatically effected retail businesses, restaurants, community events, and other vital main street institutions that drive the economy of our state. A cross-section of these impacts comes into play when Randy Harrison’s ‘Economic Development’ class (PUAD 5630) and their partners Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) shifted their work with five Colorado communities entirely online and helped transition these communities into the recovery process.

‘Economic Development’ is hands-on and innovative course that utilizes Colorado as a laboratory for understanding economic development concepts and strategies. Students not only get experience with community development but they also gain real-world experience working in partnership with DCI to assist communities throughout Colorado in addressing economic development challenges. Students worked with town leadership and stakeholders to create action plans to respond to COVID as well as plans for their economic futures. The goal of the program is to turn challenges into opportunities.

The City of Durango was selected to work with this group early in the year as a DCI 2020 Challenge Community to address the challenge of “Creatively Financing Development”. As the pandemic emerged, DCI was able to quickly adapt to virtual community meetings and the plan for Durango turned to developing a strategic approach to slowly reopening of the community to ensure economic viability of re-opening their economy once and responsibly.

UCD SPA Student Coordinators, Erin Guthrie and Connie Liu developed the material and were key in managing the discussion around reopening. Here are their testimonials from the experience:

"It was a great learning experience working with Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) and Alex Rugoff and Scott Shine from City of Durango. Though our class did not go as planned because of Covid-19, I really appreciate the opportunity to understand the struggles the community was facing.  I'm glad we were able to come up with steps to safely reopen.” – Connie Liu

"Downtown Colorado, Inc (DCI) provided the support and resources needed to navigate the challenges of Economic Development during the COVID-19 era. During the 2020 Challenge Studio, we were able to pivot to support Durango as they worked towards a safe reopening. DCI ensured that the right questions were being asked and empowered the collaborative network of La Plata County stakeholders to work together. This experience was truly one-of-a-kind and offered a hands-on opportunity unavailable in many classrooms. I would recommend the class to anyone even remotely interested in economic development, as it has the power to foster that interest into a passion.” – Erin Guthrie

During a two-hour Virtual Studio Workshop on April 15, 2020, the City of Durango and DCI brought together presenters to provide a framework for considering a reopening strategy that included Public Health and Economic Development perspectives. The Virtual Studio Workshop included two breakout sessions where participants brainstormed ideas for a reopening plan, including key audiences, sectors, and metrics as well as recovery and reimagination of vital Durango industries like education, tourism, retail, and hospitality.

Alex Rugoff from The City of Durango remarked this following the process, “Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) and the School of Public Affairs’ (SPA) Student Coordinators played an integral role in La Plata County’s economic recovery. Student Coordinators Connie Liu and Erin Guthrie brought community leaders together during our Challenge Community Virtual Studio Workshop to plan for a safe and efficient economic reopening.  The Workshop led to the formation of the La Plata Economic Recovery Task Force, which has been instrumental in providing local businesses resources to survive and adapt to the changing environment. I would strongly encourage other communities and SPA students to get involved in DCI’s Challenge Community Program.”

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