To make or become different. Take or use another instead of. The act or instance of making or becoming different. These are the definitions of the word “change”.

The thought of change causes some of us to cringe in fear because change means that the world that we’ve become accustomed to, and comfortable in, will be different in unknown ways. There’s always the possibility for change to be for the worst, and it’s often easier for people to become entrenched in the ways that they know- closing their minds to the opportunities that exist when environments are allowed and encouraged to change.

The reality is that you can’t control other people, and you can’t control every situation that you’re in; nor can you control the change that happens in the community that you live in if you refuse to be involved in meaningful and productive ways.

Change is inevitable, and without proper planning a community will suffer unintended consequences. In fact, if community leaders are not actively and continually planning for change- they are setting their community up for failure. In economic development a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) is required for regions of the country to be able to qualify for Economic Development Administration (EDA) grants. These grants help to fulfill regional economic development strategies designed to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship, advance regional competitiveness, create higher-skill, living-wage jobs, generate private investment, and fortify and grow industry clusters. A critical part of the grant application is a community’s resiliency plan.

Resilience (in reference to a community) is the “capacity to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks might happen.” Community chronic stresses include high unemployment, poor or overtaxed infrastructure, water shortages, and high poverty rates ... all of which plague Bent County. Examples of acute shocks in Bent County would be the departure of the VA, or the DOC closing at Fort Lyon. Unfortunately, at the time that these events happened, Bent County’s
economy was not diversified enough to be able to absorb those shocks and recover.

What’s scary now, is that Bent County is still in a state of economic depression, and compounding the issue is that if there were to be another “shock” - we still don’t have the economic diversity necessary to be sustainable. Our economy is currently centered around the agricultural community, two or three major employers, and a handful of small business owners peppered throughout our towns. Existing businesses are vital to our communities, and they hold a special place in our hearts- there is no replacing them; but what we all must realize is that they need to be the launching-off point ... not the end of the story.

In order to become more robust economically we need to explore options for expansion of industries, employers, activities, and opportunities available here. We need to be open to the change that is necessary to develop a diverse economy. There’s been some encouraging movement, and some recent examples of diversity in Bent County would include the addition of the hemp industry, the new disc golf course, and the Beauty Grove. These additions are great compliments to anchor businesses that have a
proud history in Bent County- such as Mountain Prairie, the Bent County Correctional Facility, Beef City, and Thaxtons Market.

In order to continue to diversify our economy we need to be embracing the possibility of changing our communities for the better. We need to be opening our minds to the opportunities that lie within technology, energy efficiency, new manufacturing, social enterprises, creative industries, and industries that have the potential of creating jobs for our residents.

A worst-case scenario would be if one of our current major employers leaves our community, and we have no “plan B”. What will happen to the people that rely on that employer for jobs? What will happen to the county/municipalities that rely on that employer for tax revenue? What will happen to the special districts that benefit from taxes paid by this employer? Nothing good- that’s for sure.

You’ve heard the ageless saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” That saying applies to the importance of resiliency planning and diverse economies for economic development; and achieving resiliency and a diverse economy is going to require change and adaptation to the changing times ... whether you like change or not.

Be the Change, Before the Change Changes You.

This was the theme of the Economic Development Council of Colorado’s Annual Conference that I attended last week in Colorado Springs. It was interesting to hear from economic developers throughout Colorado about their communities, and what they are doing to actually foster change in their communities.

Being the change means that you have some say in what gets changed and how that happens ... don’t you think it’s better to have a hand in those activities, rather than putting up walls trying to block those changes from occurring- especially when it will probably happen anyway?

Let’s be the change that our communities need!