Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration announced that the Telluride Foundation, in partnership with the West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC), was awarded a grant for local coal-impacted communities in the amount of $844,941.  

Additionally, the $844,941 grant was matched one-to-one with local cash and in-kind support, making it a $1.6 million investment into West End and Norwood communities. 

Now, officials from the organizations managing the grant said the monies will fund the “Advance West End” Program in west Montrose and San Miguel counties. The program is designed to foster the growth of small businesses and bring new economic opportunities to the region in the wake of the downturn of the local coal industry.

Officials said the Advance West End Program is funded under the 2018 Assistance to Coal Communities program, through which the Economic Development Administration awarded funds on a competitive basis to assist communities severely impacted by the declining use of coal. The ideas is to establish activities and programs that support economic diversification, job creation, capital investment, workforce development and re-employment opportunities.  

“We commend the Telluride Foundation for supporting the growth of small businesses across Colorado,” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Affairs Dennis Alvord said. “This project will build on the region’s strengths by providing locally-based enterprises with the tools they need to be successful.”

key aspects of the Advance the West Project are said to include the following:

1) business development and entrepreneurship support; 

2) tourism and place-making, with an emphasis on growing the year-round outdoor recreation industry and regional trail development; 

3) the creation of an agriculture makerspace for food production and distribution, along with providing specialized agriculture/value-added production business support and access to shared agriculture/food makerspaces and commercial kitchens in Norwood and Naturita; and 

4) workforce development, through a pilot with Skillful (an initiative of the Markle Foundation) which provides skills training and matches workforce skills to potential jobs.  

Officials from the Telluride Foundation said with the impending closure of the Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s Nucla plant and recent closure of the New Horizon Coal Mine in Nucla, an economic boost to the West End economy is much needed good news. 

They also said the Advance West End Project is expected to create or retain 23 jobs and spur $637,000 in private investment.

Additionally, theproject was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Region 10 Economic Assistance and Planning, which brought together the public and private sectors in the West End to create an economic development roadmap.  Also, Trish Thibodo of the Department of Local Affairs, Rural Response, Recovery & Resilience (4Rs) Program coordinated and facilitated the successful grant application, representatives said.