We are so thrilled that the business community of Denver is interested in the moves we are making here in Chaffee County to support entrepreneurialism, innovation, and job growth! Check out this article published yesterday in the Denver Business Journal.
By Ed Sealover – Senior Reporter, Denver Business Journal 6 hours ago
Chaﬀee County and Denver may be separated by 130 miles, but metro-area leaders are playing a signiﬁcant role in an economic development initiative to grow businesses in the area that includes popular mountain getaways Buena Vista and Salida. The recently launched Ascent initiative — from Jake Rishavy, a former longtime Denver South oﬃcial who now is executive director at Chaﬀee County Economic Development Commission — seeks to pair growing companies from that region with mentors and potential ﬁnanciers from the Denver area. Leaders such as former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Kelly Brough and Noosa Yogurt co-founder Koel Thomae are volunteering their time to discuss opportunities with participants, and organizations like the Rockies Venture Fund are talking about funding paths. While Chaﬀee County has seen a surge in visitors escaping more tightly packed urban areas over the past two years, Rishavy said it’s important to lay out a year-round economy that can sustain the area if tourism slows down. The EDC welcomed a cohort of outdoor recreation, food and beverage, and packaged goods companies from the area to participate in Ascent with the goal of 25 new year-round jobs annually that pay more than the area median income. Participants have said the most valuable thing they’ve gotten from the initiative has been the coaching and advising from metro-area business folks who have been through the same decisions they are undertaking now on how to expand production, revenue and hiring. Brian England, owner of Eddyline Brewing of Buena Vista, for example, sat down with a business coach for the ﬁrst time and was forced to rethink his pre-pandemic goal of opening taprooms across the state, which has become more diﬃcult to envision in a labor shortage. Instead, he now is looking at distilling spirits in some of the excess space at his facility, which could net the company new revenue to help pay workers and have been received warmly, at least in concept, by his distributor as a potential new product line.
Eddyline Brewing owner Brian England speaks at a recent Ascent event in Chaffee County. CATHERINE EICHEL PHOTOGRAPHY/PROVIDED BY CHAFFEE COUNTY EDC “There’s businesses in Denver that have gone through those growth pains,” England said. “And just that mentoring network they put together is extremely valuable.” Rishavy tapped into old connections to be a part of that network and got ﬁnancial institutions such as Rockies Venture Fund and Collegiate Peaks Bank to talk about the money that would be needed for potential expansion. Chaﬀee County EDC is putting on a startup summit at the end of this month for companies earlier in their growth, and he said he hopes that the connections he is making are permanent, both between the local and Denver-area businesses and between the two regions in general. Brough, who now serves as chief strategy oﬃcer for the Metropolitan State University of Denver, said she’s long believed that the stronger Colorado’s more rural economy is, the stronger the business atmosphere of the Denver area and of the state can be. She’s talked with a food production company that would beneﬁt from more exposure in the Denver area and likely be able to create jobs if it gets it, and she’s also worked with an outdoor recreation company that needs advice on how to go national with its distribution.
Kelly Brough is chief strategy officer at Metropolitan State University of Denver. PROVIDED BY KELLY BROUGH Joe Smith — senior vice president and mountain region commercial loan manager for Collegiate Peaks Bank, which is based in Buena Vista but has locations around Denver as well — said that one thing Ascent has done is drawn out some of the angel investors who live in the metro area but have second homes in Chaﬀee County. His bank can supply the needs of growing companies but having access to a host of ﬁnanciers can only beneﬁt both the businesses and the institutions that serve them, he said. “The real long-term beneﬁt is when you break down this notion that the success of companies elsewhere in our state doesn’t matter to you,” Brough said. “There’s a time to compete, and there’s a time to collaborate. And if you can understand the diﬀerence, you’ll really have the most successful economy in the United States.”
Carlin Walsh, co-founder of Elevation Beer Co. of Poncha Springs, said that participation in the initiative has helped and business partner Christian Koch to think through a strategy to help their business and the region — serving as a production center for other beverage companies making both alcoholic and nonalcoholic oﬀerings. This was the ﬁrst accelerator program in which Elevation has participated — and the ﬁrst Walsh said he’s ever known of in Chaﬀee County — but he thinks the symbiosis between his region and Denver could lead to creation of the jobs that Rishavy wants. “If we can help support that entrepreneurial spirit for the community, then that’s great success,” said Walsh, whose beers are distributed throughout the Front Range.