Castle Country BEAR goes statewide, sees continued growth
With beginnings that can be traced back to economic development in 1990's the Castle Country Business Expansion and Retention Project (BEAR) has grown from a local collective of driven individuals into a statewide juggernaut that is now functioning in 20 rural communities throughout Utah.
This past legislative session, Castle Country BEAR received concrete validation for its economic development model as the program was awarded funding from the Utah legislature through the Governor's Office of Economic Development. This funding along with a solid operating foundation may just be all BEAR needs to become a permanent statewide economic fixture.
"This project has strengthened a great many local companies," stated Castle Country BEAR Director Delynn Fielding, who is also the Economic Development Director for Carbon County. "We have created new jobs and bolstered our local economy is ways that are easily demonstrable."
Since 2006, the project has created 207 jobs in Carbon and Emery counties, secured more than $580,000 in public investment loans and increased local revenues to the tune of over $5.1 million.
This boost to the area's economy proved vital during the recent economic downturn, as companies which were looking at relocating to the Castle Valley simply stopped looking. This lack of interest from outside parties shifted the focus all economic resources to local businesses, making the BEAR model of homegrown expansion and retention a major success year after year.
Headlines garnered through the growth of Castle Country BEAR did not go unnoticed as counties from every corner of the state took interest and started projects of their own.
"The allocation we received from the state will not fund our program completely," explained Fielding. "However, this partial funding will allow the program to continue within rural counties in the state, at least for the time being."
The BEAR model depends largely on person-to-person information gathering, a labor intensive practice, which has been made easier by revolutionary software provided by Executive Pulse and Americorps VISTA Volunteers who have staffed the project for nearly five years.
"Part of the challenge we face moving into the future is finding a way to make the BEAR program run after VISTA is no longer available," said Fielding. "Because it is a federally funded program, we have no way of knowing how long the help will be available and we need to have a steady staff. We should have our VISTAs for another year, but after that, it's hard to say."
Delores Roberts, an Americorps VISTA who has been with the project from the beginning, has personally visited more than 1,300 businesses in the area and has been charged with training BEAR technicians throughout Utah.
"In the last two and a half months I have trained 16 new BEAR representatives," explained Roberts. "I went out to their sites and taught them in their own environment so that they could learn the program within their own community. After all, one of the main tenets of this program is our ability to provide sound economic development strategy on a company to company basis."
Staffing and training are vital to the program, as a database of individually visited businesses serves as the foundation for all referrals, incentives, cost savings, job creation and loan provisions made available through the project.
"It is our hope that this program's continued growth and success make BEAR an ongoing and permanent portion of the state's economic development plan," said Karl Kraync, who was one of the founding members of Castle Country BEAR and still serves on the executive committee. "Governor Herbert thought enough of the program to specifically mention BEAR during his annual address to the legislative budget committee. The state government as a whole as sat up and taken notice of what is going on in the Castle Valley."
While generated revenue and statewide expansion are two of the program's ongoing successes, it would be remiss to discuss BEAR without mentioning partnerships and educational programs provided since the project began in 2006.
Over the past five years, Castle Country BEAR has visited and provided information to over 1,400 local businesses, organized and provided substance abuse seminars for more than 1,600 area employees and business owners and held several marketing seminars custom tailored to businesses within the Castle Valley.
These accomplishments have provided a major impact on the local community, however, according to both Kraync and Fielding, the greater good of this project is yet to come.
"The more we can learn about our local merchants, the more we visit with them, the more opportunities we seem to be able to send their way," explained Fielding.
This is also a demonstrable issue as project's "estimated total increased revenue" has steadily grown from $80,000 in 2006 to over $3.3 million in 2010.
"We have some major plans for the remainder of this year as well,"concluded Fielding. "In fact right now we are looking for local existing companies interested in developing new products. This new project will help owners use current employees along with existing skills and equipment to develop new products and services. We will also be providing marketing instruction centered around innovation, that will be the center piece of this plan, teaching local businesses to be more innovative with what already exists within their company."