Small business focus of URGED annual dinner

DEL NORTE — Small business was the focus of Upper Rio Grande Economic Development’s annual dinner on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at the Windsor Hotel in Del Norte.

Tony Gagliardi, who is the Colorado State Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), was the featured speaker.

Gagliardi spoke of how small business and big businesses were different in the scale of the economy. He said small businesses pay out a lot more in tax than big businesses, adding that when a small business opens, they are already in the hole money wise.

Gagliardi said personal tax breaks are much more important to small businesses than big businesses.

NFIB can help small businesses work through these challenges and more.

"The founder of NFIB recognized that large businesses have someone to speak on their behalf, but small businesses didn't have that, and there was no organized platform to give them representation, that is how the NFIB was developed,” he said. “Our membership today covers right around 300,000 members. In Colorado, we have between 6,200 and 6,500 members. If there is one thing I can't stress enough, is a one-size-fits-all rule, regulation or tax, it does not help mainstream, it does harm to mainstream, for all of these reasons that's why we became the voice for small businesses. The number one issue for small businesses, is affordable health care for employers."

Gagliardi also spoke about various statistics in small businesses and how the NFIB is doing extensive research to help small businesses in many different areas.

Mike Hurst, the President of the Del Norte Bank, was the first speaker of the night. He spoke about the history URGED.

“Back around 2004 a group of us realized that there was a great value of communication when Red McCombs was trying to form ‘The Village at Wolf Creek,’” Hurst said. “There was a loud conservation movement, but it wasn’t a very balanced discussion. We formed Upper Rio Grande Economic Development to counterbalance that heavy effort that they were putting forth. We did that for a long time.”

Hurst said communication has always been at the core of URGED and was spotlighted even more recently by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we learned was, one of the most valuable things that was happening was our own interaction with each other,” Hurst said. “After the last two years, I think we can all appreciate that this lack of connectivity, that there is cost attached to that. We really started communicating, the towns were talking to each other, and the towns were all coordinating. We looked at it and decided wow this is so great, lets hire somebody to direct it.”

Hurst said getting people on board was just the beginning.

“We went to about 20 organizations and said, ‘We would like to put some real muscle on this little organization we have; would you put up some real money,’” Hurst said. “One hundred percent of them said yes, not one said this is too much money, and they were big checks.

“So, then we started really doing the economic development and talk about a thankless job. So many of the successes that have happened over the years, you can’t talk about them, with legislators, with town councils, with working out the mechanizations with this stuff we call business, out of sight, to make things work.”

Hurst said the group looked at what was important for people — housing and jobs.

“That is our mission to talk about ways to make more jobs, more housing available, for the west end of the Valley,” Hurst said.

Local Senator Cleve Simpson also spoke at the dinner. Simpson talked about the districts that he covers, and how economic circumstances have affected some of the areas.

Simpson gave some examples of how populations reduced due to economic circumstances, and how some other development areas have been affected.

"I have switched from representing Senate District 35, now I represent Senate District 6, the San Luis Valley and everything west,” Simpson said. “We are in a water security challenge where our demands exceed our supplies. Challenging times are in front of us, and the impact these challenges have on folks, it’s tangible how we deal with this. I have been really vocal about how irrigated agriculture is going to change. If we are thoughtful, engaged and very deliberate about it, there will be an incremental change, if not a fundamental change.”

Simpson represents Crowly County in the Arkansas Valley and said they have gone from a community that had 50,000 irrigated acres in the 1970's and early 80's of sugar beets and alfalfa, and because of pressures and economic circumstances it really crashed the sugar beet market and folks there.

“I know the choices they made,” Simpson said. “They chose to sell an abundance of their water to municipal interests in the Denver metro area. So today instead of 50,000 acres they have 5,000 acres.”

He encouraged people to “pay attention” to what happens in the Colorado River system.

“What happens in the Colorado River will eventually impact us here as well,” Simpson said. “I talk about water all the time, but there are so many other issues that are so important as well, like ag, water, economic issues, the list just goes on and on."

Simpson concluded by saying, "It's been a passion of mine to figure out how to keep our communities, and our economies, and our cultures whole. The San Luis Valley is a place for solar energy. "

Simpson said that there will also be a discussion at the Alamosa County Commissioners office, regarding the opportunity for more solar development in Colorado.