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Nonprofit sees trade school as key to building Pagosa Springs’ economy

Town has high demand for labor as it balances housing and workforce issues
Build Pagosa is fundraising to build a new career and technical education center in Pagosa Springs to benefit youth labor retention. (Durango Herald file)

A Pagosa Springs nonprofit is raising money to build a career and technical education center with the hopes of improving the local workforce and strengthening the town’s economy.

Build Pagosa is trying to raise $4.3 million in grants and in-kind contributions to build a trades school. Fundraising and planning are in the early stages. The idea is to build it on property owned by Archuleta School District.

Pagosa Springs, with a population of about 2,000 people (13,500 total in Archuleta County), lacks postsecondary opportunities, which means students often leave the area after high school to pursue other opportunities.

Additionally, the town has a disproportionate number of retirees compared with youths, said Laura Marchino, director of Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado. That leads to high demand in the workforce.

“What Pagosa has recognized is that they attract retirees, and retirees don’t have babies. So there’s already a workforce shortage,” Marchino said.

Build Pagosa is a nonprofit that works collectively with Archuleta School District for career and technical education purposes. The organization has coordinated with the school district, town and county to start the project.

Build Pagosa has been approved as an “Enterprise Zone Contribution Project” by the State Economic Development Commission. The designation allows donors of $200 or more to the organization to claim a 25% state tax credit, and a 12.5% state tax credit on in-kind donations, a news release said. The credit is in addition to the federal tax deduction for contributing to any 501(c)3.

The proposed center would be open to anyone seeking trade skills, regardless of whether they are part of the Archuleta School District. It would offer classes, professional development seminars and community interest courses.

According to a living wage report released last month by Region 9, Pagosa Springs is the most expensive community to live in within Southwest Colorado in terms wages versus cost of housing. The report said a single adult must make $18.81 per hour to live affordably.

The goal of a career and technical education center is to create an attractive job market.

As a result of high demand, Marchino said trade jobs are starting to pay more than traditional college-educated jobs, and access to these types of employment would offer more affluent opportunities in the area.

Build Pagosa Executive Director Kris Salisbury said Pagosa Springs struggles with youth retention in the labor force because there is a lack of postsecondary education and housing.

“There’s a need to be able to grow a workforce from our high school students, because they don’t have access to those technical skills at the level that this new center would provide,” Salisbury said.

She said the center would provide a vitality to the town, where students can learn multiple trades whether it is in building, agriculture, outdoor recreation or the medical field.

“If we have a center, we have the ability to have super exciting and vital programs, where the students can see all of the opportunities Pagosa has to offer, because the town’s building trades are booming right now,” Salisbury said.

Many of the courses offered by the center would be based on student interest and teacher availability. She anticipates the center will offer classes in architectural drafting, automotive repair and medical trades. She said Build Pagosa is already offering some of those classes, but a larger space would allow it to expand.

A career and technical education center would create a better economic future for Pagosa because it could potentially develop labor to build new housing. One reason Pagosa Springs does not have more workforce housing is because there are not enough contractors to build them, she said. A career center could also help alleviate hospital staffing issues in Pagosa Springs by teaching medical trade skills.

“Anytime we invest in education, we invest in the future workforce,” Salisbury said. “And when we’re able to train people to come straight out of high school and jump into some of the jobs that we desperately need, we promote economic growth.”

Salisbury hopes the center can be used for not only high school students but for students who are looking for postsecondary education in the trades. She said the goal is to collaborate with community colleges and universities to develop the programs for those who have graduated from high school.

tbrown@durangoherald

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