Programs available to help people learn about business

COSTILLA COUNTY — Rural America, including San Luis Valley, has been in the spotlight recently. There are several organizations from the federal government to local non-profits, who focus on providing business training, resources for town managers, community leaders, and entrepreneurs to help them create more economic opportunities for their community to thrive.

The United States Department of Agriculture is a federal agency dedicated solely to assisting rural communities. There are 40 programs available, from helping people buy or repair homes to providing resources for businesses, all to strengthen and stabilize communities to help them prosper.

Downtown Colorado Inc. is a non-profit established in 1982 to connect people wanting to start or improve their business with the resources to do so, like providing loans and grants. There are currently two programs available.

The Challenge Program targets the problems of the community, creates an action plan for achievable solutions and connects people with resources, like grants and loans to help implement change.

The Recast Program is based on the teachings of Ilana Preuss, who has a company called Recast City LLC and has written a book, "Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing." The main focus of Recast City is to revitalize the main streets of small-town America by bringing businesses back downtown through a five-step process.

Since 2021, Downtown Colorado Inc. has been working with San Luis Town Manager Susan Sanderford and Amy Raney, who owns Spin Drift Sandboards and several other business ventures.

San Luis received several parklets — small booths that businesses could rent for a nominal fee each month. It is a way to start a business and bring economic opportunities to the town.

Raney said, “the grant (through USDA Rural Development) will allow Blanca to have parklets. There will also be a train engine coming to Blanca."

Raney says it is important "for the community to collaborate with business." She participates in the Recast program. She does small-scale manufacturing by building sandboards. She also owns SLV Property Services, which hires housekeepers to clean residences and short-term rentals. She produced a non-toxic natural cleaner.

She notes, "all this money has to be sustainable. Out of the 3,500 people in Costilla County, only about 1,100 live in town."

Many people live off grid in the mountains and may not have access to resources. Raney also teaches yoga on Tuesday evenings at the Fort Garland-Blanca Community Center. She belongs to a group called Tiny Towns which includes people from Antonito, Blanca and San Luis who get together each month to discuss business opportunities and ways for these communities to thrive.

Downtown Colorado Inc. is looking for other entrepreneurs, small-scale manufacturers, artists, creative people who want to make a difference in their community and need assistance with finances, and training.

To participate in the Recast Challenge Program or for more about entrepreneur and business training, people can complete an SLV Business to Business Connections Network Survey, fill out a Colorado Recast Challenge Interest Form and can sign up for one-on-one digital coaching. The website and links are posted.

There will be a state-wide summit April 11-14 in Loveland, north of Denver. It is an opportunity for entrepreneurs and businesses to exchange ideas on how to create more local, quality jobs and what is needed to implement the action plans communities have devised.

There will be a local summit, the San Luis Valley Entrepreneurship Summit in Alamosa on June 20-21 for people participating in the Challenge program. They will be eligible for the USDA Rural Development grant and can receive one-on-one business consulting.

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