MONTE VISTA—In April, the city of Monte Vista hired entrepreneur Ron Douglas to attract new business to the city and, through advice, help stabilize and grow existing businesses and organizations. Since Douglas’ first days on the city payroll, four new businesses have been registered in Monte Vista due to his assistance. A fifth company was rescued from closing and two additional businesses are slated to open.
“And there are more businesses in the works,” said Douglas to Monte Vista’s city manager, city council and more than a dozen citizens in an October meeting.
The city council work session was convened to dispel growing concerns among a small number of local residents that Douglas is not fulfilling his economic-development obligations. Some people have also expressed doubts about Douglas’ resumé as a successful business entrepreneur. The meeting was also to help the city decide whether to renew Douglas’ six-month contract, which is now on a month-to-month basis.
Douglas said the public forum was a problem due to the confidentiality that some businesses from him, especially projects still in the works. “I have no problem presenting information privately to the city manager and council members,” he said, “but I did go ahead and invite a handful of people to speak on my behalf.”
To be fair to Douglas’ naysayers, he did make big promises in the beginning. One such claim was that half of the tech companies he had been talking to about opening up shop in Monte Vista were “ready to jump in the car and head down right now.” That, of course, hasn’t happened. Businesses Douglas has been working with are smaller ventures— like Wise Bounty, SLVoices, Next Level Fitness and Nutrition and American Diesel. Owners from these businesses and others spoke at the work session on Douglas’s behalf, as did the business he helped from closing, Widowmaker Apparel Company, and entrepreneurs from the two pending businesses, Lunatic Motorsports and Ruben’s Appliance & Heating.
Wise Bounty is an online company founded by Monte Vista residents Adam and Martha Lock that offers household water filtration systems, nutritional supplements, electrical surge protectors and a solar cooking unit called the Sun Oven. Their second business, SLVoices.com, is an online forum spotlighting San Luis Valley events and promoting local businesses. The couple posts information, podcasts and interviews on their website and provides voice talent for commercials, voiceovers, film trailers and other audio recordings for businesses and individuals.
The Locks said they met Douglas around the time he launched one of his most successful ventures, the Self-Reliance Expo, in 2009. “A lot of home-based businesses fail,” said Martha, “and we’ve had countless meetings with Ron to help with analyzing numbers and company direction.” The couple said they just hired their first employee. “Business is growing like crazy. A lot of that initial work was Ron Douglas pointing us in the right direction.”
Michael Mora, local resident and owner of the recently opened Next Level Fitness and Nutrition in downtown Monte Vista, said it was Douglas who inspired him to open the fitness center after a meeting at the chamber of commerce/information center in which Douglas presented his business coaching services, which are available pro bono through the city for startup and existing businesses.
Douglas connected Mora with local businessman Phinel Garcia, who offered Mora a discount on one of six rental spaces that he owns. But the space needed updating and a slew of gym equipment, and Mora’s budget was tight. On Douglas’ advice, Mora took a different approach and brought in sand bags, gymnastics rings, ropes, barbells, pullup bars, stretch bands and huge tractor tires for more of a CrossFit training type of concept. “I wanted to make it a gym where you can use regular things at home, like tires,” he said. “It’s a more spartan way of training that is functional and will transition into everyday life.”
Mora graduated from Adams State University in 2014 with a degree in sports management and nutrition, kinesiology and coaching. It’s been his dream to open a fitness center in Monte Vista, he said. “It is my way of helping the community.”
Next Level Fitness currently has about 20 members and offers boxing class, boot camp workouts and one-on-one training and nutrition sessions with Mora, who spoke highly of Douglas. “I don’t understand why people are so doubtful of him. It wasn’t more than six months ago when all of those buildings were empty. And now there are businesses open.”
Joseph Linares is an automotive electrician and diesel mechanic out of Sanford. He recently rented the last available building of Garcia’s six rental spaces. It was Douglas who connected the two businessmen. “I could have gone anywhere because I have been more of a mobile mechanic and going to local shops and troubleshooting for them,” said Linares. “But I chose to open a business here because of the great opportunity being afforded to me and the desire to have me here.”
Business owner Ruben Luna said he is moving into the old police department building, which Douglas is leasing from the city and fixing up as he rents out each space. “I talked to a few other business owners about other buildings, and they just weren’t in my price range for what I do,” said Luna, who for years has been doing appliance repair from his home and wanted a brick and mortar space from which to work. “Ron was able to get me in that building at a reasonable price, and he has been giving me ideas about how to move forward in the business.” Luna is working on securing appliance manufacturers so he can also sell new appliances in the space.
Wayne Pacheco owns Widowmaker Apparel Company (Wayne’s Print Shop), which he was considering shutting down because he couldn’t find a reasonably-priced location to rent. He is currently working out of the old police department.
Neuerburg said the city has paid about $3,000 on plumbing repairs for the old PD (Guzlow) building. Douglas said he has spent about $5,000 on electrical and heating. The city's year-end budget estimate is currently $7,000 towards the Guzlow building because the extent of up-front repairs was unknown at the time budgeting plans were being made. There are also some past winterization costs prior to the lease of the building.
Douglas is also leasing the old Valley Publishing building, which needs extensive work.
Still, the old ambulance bays behind the building are being updated by Terell Luna for his business Lunatic Motorsports, which will hone in on the niche market of shock rebuilding and other tough mechanics for off-road vehicles that many other auto shops tend to shy away from.
Luna said he hadn’t had much luck finding an affordable space until connecting with Douglas, who told him about the old ambulance bay. “It’s the perfect little spot to start out,” said Luna, adding that Douglas has also been advising him about engine sales as an additional means of bringing money into the Valley. Engines are currently being brought in from states such as Arizona and California, he said.
City councilor Kathleen Ellithorpe addressed the poor conditions of the buildings Douglas is leasing. “Not one of these buildings owned by the city was move-in ready. They are in terrible shape,” she said. “Some had roofs falling in and they hadn’t had heat for a long time. They were dirty and had been uninhabited for many years. So for Ron to take on those and say, ‘Yeah, let’s get those in shape for use,’ is huge. I don’t know anyone else who would have taken that on.”
According to City Manager Forrest Neuerburg, the city considered razing the old Valley Publishing and turning it into a pocket park at one time because of restoration costs.
Former mayor Debbie Garcia isn’t convinced about the job Douglas has been doing. “While it’s easy to get caught up in emotion and to listen to people who are passionate and have a dream, your job as a city council is to stay grounded in facts and reality,” she said. “It would be good for you guys to analyze your sales tax figures and see what that increase is with these new businesses.” She also mentioned the Upper Rio Grande Economic Development group as another resource for economic development. “Has anybody reached out to them?” she asked. “I think we need to involve them in the development plan, as well.”
Garcia suggested Douglas report to the council about pending businesses who wish to stay confidential in executive session, which would be just the city manager and councilors.
Another issue brought up is the lack of transparency in the lease agreements between the city, Douglas and the tenants.
As far as Douglas’ background, he started his first business when he was just 24 years old. “I’ve had about 40 businesses since then,” he said in a former interview, “everything from car companies to poultry shops, car lots, event companies and even a wildlife control company.”
One of his top accomplishments was Critter Control franchises located in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. Douglas sold the franchises for over $1 million and the company is still going strong.
Another successful venture was the Self-Reliance Expo, which Douglas launched in 2009. The event has been described as one of the longest-running preparedness, survival, sustainability and homesteading expos in the country. Douglas has since sold the still-popular venture.
Douglas also participated in the Discovery Channel’s “Blue Collar Backers,” a show in which successful businesspeople across various fields and trades share lessons they’ve learned over their careers with budding entrepreneurs. They also provide the funds, time and hard work to help make those businesses a success.
Douglas said he hopes to continue helping the city with economic development. “It’s been fun,” he said. “There is no other city I know of in Colorado with a population of less than 5,000 people with this number of businesses that have started in such a short amount of time, and I am pretty proud of that fact.”
Douglas will be presenting hard numbers on his work in the Thursday, Nov. 1 city council meeting at 6 p.m. He will also be showing a professionally produced video he commissioned aimed at attracting business growth from outside Monte Vista.