What is placemaking? It’s an economic development strategy that practices using a community’s amenities to make economic progress by focusing on unique features within a geographic area, and building on or improving existing assets; then using those improvements to attract new businesses and strengthen existing businesses. It’s capitalizing on a community’s assets, inspiration, and potential with the goal of creating public spaces that promote health, happiness, and well-being.
I was recently asked what exactly I was currently doing to support local businesses throughout Bent County. Aside from personally going door-to-door to speak with business owners for the first two months that I was in this position, and continually striving to be available and accessible to any, and all, business owners on a regular basis for on-going support; I would hope that all my efforts thus far at the Bent County Development Foundation would be seen as efforts to build community, and start the process of creating a collaborative environment so that projects in Bent County - whether they be town, city, or county driven- can be approached with common goals in mind to pursue this effort of placemaking.
I truly believe that there’s a legitimate chicken-or-egg battle that goes on between those that have a responsibility to the growth of Bent County. Do we need to bring businesses in to increase the tax base - which would enable us to build a better community and attract more population? Or, do we create a community that retains and attracts people- which would create demand for more businesses to come in and provide desired services?
The first scenario of bringing in new businesses (large or small) leads directly to efforts that are focused on pursuing these businesses, the site selection process, and creation of a marketing campaign that highlights the unique (yet) unrefined opportunities that lie within our boarders.
The second scenario (placemaking) prioritizes economic efforts focused on the existing amenities that make up a community and making improvements to those amenities and assets in a way that creates a pleasant and welcoming environment that will ultimately attract businesses that we want and need in a more organic way. I believe this approach also focuses more on grass roots efforts and supporting local entrepreneurs.
My personal preference is the latter approach. “Why?” you ask. Well, first of all- no business out there is interested in relocating their operations, and potentially some of their employees, to a place that’s not pleasant to be in nor showing forward progress- especially if that place is consistently struggling with out-migration and loss of population, as this leads to issues with the availability of a sustainable workforce. Even if a company were to come to Bent County- most of their employees would most likely
commute from Lamar or La Junta, because those communities are aggressively focusing on placemaking efforts. Our neighbors are focusing on expanding recreational amenities, providing inviting public spaces, hosting attractive and engaging events, developing housing, and revitalizing their downtowns.
Does this mean that Bent County is a lost cause? NOT AT ALL! Bent County has A TON of potential! So, what are some Bent County assets that we can look at to capitalize on? We have a massive number of historical sites and buildings that are currently underutilized and under marketed. We have John Martin Reservoir that is the third largest body of water (by volume) in the state of Colorado. We have a downtown that is mainly empty- which could be seen as a detriment, but I see it as an opportunity to
make the community what you want it to be. We have an underutilized sports complex that is made up of multiple ball fields, a golf course, a disc golf course, walking trails, and a fishing pond. We have a brand-spanking-new Community Center that has state-of-the-art amenities. Fort Lyon is a sleeping giant in terms of potential for use and economic expansion. There is PRIME agricultural land throughout the county, and hemp is a growing industry that many are looking into.
I can continue this for a while, but for the sake of your time, and my word-count for the article, I’ll stop there. You get my point. We have amenities that have the potential to make Bent County shine.
Now, what this article has not touched on yet, is the fact that placemaking is a group effort. I have lived in a number of different communities throughout Colorado, and each community rightfully has its own personality. I can take the things that I (personally) like about these places and try to bring those ideas here; but the reality is that if it’s not inspired and built from within it won’t be sustainable. This means that without your help (i.e. attending community discussions, participating in activities and events,
completing surveys, etc.), placemaking is impossible. Think about it. If the community doesn’t want to build a place that’s worth sharing- a place that represents our heritage and our way of life- a place that is welcoming and inviting; then why would we ever expect anyone else (or any new businesses) to want to be a part of it either? Just food for thought.