Ideas for economic development in the Eastern Sierra have been the subject of a number of studies, and now one group is hoping to put hammer to nail and get some work done.
The Eastern Sierra Regional Broadband Consortium is inviting residents to attend the next meeting of the Desert Mountain Resource Conservation and Development Council to help get economic development rolling in Inyo County.
RC&D President Doug Thompson said the group wants to get as many community leaders involved as possible as members discuss e-commerce, renewable energy, tourism and hospitality – and state and federal funding that is available for projects that are ready to roll out.
Thompson said the RC&D is prepared to help local business leaders and organizations apply for state and federal grants that will provide a boost to the local economy, but needs residents to propose and champion their projects at the meeting, which is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 at the Marriott Spring Hill Suites, 113 E. Sydnor St. in Ridgecrest.
At the meeting, Dr. Glenda Humiston, state director of USDA Rural Development, will give a talk titled, “Exploring opportunities for Economic Development in the Eastern Sierra.” Humiston will fill residents in on funding opportunities before opening the discussion up in a workshop to explore three topics: what the best local opportunities are, what resources and partners are vital to success and who is willing to engage.
Thompson said that the communities of the Eastern Sierra have been the subject of a number of economic studies, including a leakage study, in an effort to stimulate the local economy, “but now we want to get projects going. Right now we’re overloaded with paper, but not enough work.”
Thompson said several ideas have been proposed that would help to retain some of the $650 million the local tourism industry generates, including: improving the Internet presence of local businesses to advertise local businesses; the construction of workforce housing that would allow local businesses to grow; and co-ops with local fruit and vegetable and beef producers. Thompson said such co-ops would benefit both the producers and local restaurants and markets which would be able to advertise and sell locally raised and grown food to consumers.
Thompson is personally interested in utilizing the Digital 395 project to get more local businesses onto the Internet and to link local websites to create a regional presence online. Digitial 395 is a project to construct a fiber optic backbone from Barstow to Reno that will improve Internet speeds along the U.S. 395 corridor.
“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘What are we going to get out of Digital 395?’ That’s a really hard question. It just depends” on how local business take advantage of it, Thompson said. “Market research says not much is known about this area, but a greater web presence would help that.”
His idea is to use the National Geographic geotourism website as a base. He said more than 2,000 Eastern Sierra businesses and attractions are already listed on that site, linked together by an easy-to-use map that allows web surfers to see what is available and where it is in relation to other services and attractions.
“We want to use that as a base map and get the local businesses to engage, link everything,” Thompson said. “It’s a platform that already exists. We want to try to hook up the local business community so they can have a web presence.”
But before any project can get rolling, Thompson said the RC&D needs to hear from community members about what projects they want, and what can work.
“We don’t want to direct this, we want to facilitate it,” Thompson said. “What we need is ideas and champions for projects.”
Next Thursday’s meeting is open to the public and anyone who has ideas for economic development projects of any kind is invited to attend, hear Humiston’s presentation and present their project.