Back to basics: Bayfield searches for identity

Town begins brainstorming for economic development ideas

Bayfield town board candidate. 2002 Enlarge photo

Bayfield town board candidate. 2002

The walls of Bayfield Town Hall were plastered with lists of economic development goals Tuesday night. The ideas written on the poster were extensive, including workforce day care needs, branding, marketing and website development for the town.

Inside the room, a small group of residents and elected officials threw around ideas of an equestrian-friendly trail system and building better infrastructure, all in an effort to grow, attract and retain business in Bayfield.

But after more than two hours of discussion about ways to boost business in the heart of the Pine River Valley, group members decided they ought to first focus on just one thing: Bayfield’s identity.

Without an identity, or a central message, the town will have a hard time prioritizing projects or goals, the group agreed.

“We have to decide as a community what we are and what we want to be,” Mayor Rick Smith said. “When we know what Bayfield is, then we can define the things we’re going to work toward first.”

When he was elected, Smith said Bayfield was known as a family-friendly town and focused its efforts in supporting that identity.

“Are we still that? Do we want to add to that?” he asked the attendees.

Bruce Evans, deputy chief of the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District, said the town attracts people looking for a “slice of Americana” and others touted the town’s quality of life.

But there’s still a need to develop a coherent message that will guide future economic development, group members said.

The group also agreed that infrastructure is key to whatever future action the town takes.

“Without technology and without getting broadband, we’re not going further,” said Anne Cook, a Bayfield resident who works in the insurance industry. “We’re not going to get a hotel when Bayfield can’t support broadband for 30 rooms.”

The meeting was billed as an effort to revive discussions and action that led to a strategic plan for economic development, approved in January 2009. And while some of the plan’s goals have been completed, many remain in the “to do” column. Meanwhile, a coordinated effort to update and make progress on the plan’s goals has languished the last couple of years.

“I think this gives us a very good template,” Town Manager Chris LaMay said as he reviewed the 2009 plan. “But if you look at the list of items, in my perspective, there’s a need to prioritize and reign it all in.”

Smith agreed.

“Where we failed is we didn’t put priorities,” he said. “With the extensive nature of all goals, there is no way this little town could have accomplished all those goals.”

The town needed to prioritize and set a timeline for certain projects, meeting participants said.

Representatives from regional economic development organizations Region 9 and the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance also gave advice.

“I like the idea of focusing on the big picture,” said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the Economic Development Alliance. “I’d like to hear what does Bayfield want to be in 10 or 15 years, and what role does economic development play?”

Zalneraitis suggested the town start by picking a few major projects that are in line with the community’s vision and help move the town toward a certain goal.

The Economic Development Alliance went through a similar process to develop a central mission, which is to create jobs in the county, he said.

Laura Lewis Marchino, assistant director of Region 9 Economic Development District, said Bayfield shouldn’t ignore the identity it already has acquired.

“I’m seeing your niche is bedroom community, like it or not,” Lewis said. She suggested “building upon those values and those strengths.”

Attendees also agreed on the need for more participation in economic development discussions.

The group scheduled another meeting in November to continue its work.

“We need to talk to people about what do you see in your mind, and what do you envision when you hear Bayfield, Colorado?” Smith said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com