Regional Economic Organization hitting its stride

In Verde Valley: 'No community is an island'

Mary Chicoine

Mary Chicoine

VERDE VALLEY - The idea of regional economic development has been around for a long time. Years ago, the Verde Valley Economic Development Council got started - then fizzled out.

But the idea was revitalized in late 2006 and early 2007. A couple of meetings on the idea at Yavapai College led to the creation of the Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization (VVREO).

This time, the idea has traction.

"In the last couple of years VVREO has really taken off," said Mary Chicoine, current chair for the organization. "We do a lot of work with the Arizona Commerce Authority."

She said VVREO is well respected at the state level.

"No community is an island," said Jennifer Wesselhoff, VVREO secretary, and president and CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce.

She explained that building and maintaining prosperity, not just for one community but also for the region, depends largely on the ability to think in terms of the assets that exist in our region.

"In our case, we need to think about the assets of the entire Verde Valley," Wesselhoff said. "At VVREO, we know that by partnering we can share assets, resources, and information in order to achieve a common goal of regional prosperity."

Vice chair of VVREO, Jodie Filardo, Community & Economic Development Director of Clarkdale, said the organization focuses on economic prosperity across the entire Verde Valley.

"As such, it provides an integrated, single point of contact for a host of issues of interest to many," Filardo said. "Examples of successes include the fostering of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, the acquisition of funding to start a revolving loan fund, and the annual Speaker Series on economic issues."

Wesselhoff explained that the revolving loan fund comes from a Rural Business Enterprise Grant for $200,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"The purpose of the revolving fund is to fill a financial gap between what a financial institution is willing to lend and what the borrower actually needs to grow their business," she said.

Chicoine pointed out that the revolving fund is one of VVREO's driven initiatives. Driven initiatives are ones in which the board makes decisions regarding a project.

Another driven initiative is the Verde Valley Agriculture Coalition (VVAG-C). VVREO facilitated valley-wide planning and serves as the fiscal agent. The organization also partners for the renaissance of agriculture valley wide. The VVAG-C participates in local food forums.

Support initiatives differ from driven initiatives in that VVREO does not make decisions regarding projects but does provide assistance if requested.

Some examples of support initiatives include the Verde Valley Broadband Coalition, Verde Valley Wine Consortium, Verde Valley Waterways, Sedona-Verde Valley Tourism Council and the Verde Valley Archeology Center.

Casey Rooney, director of economic development for Cottonwood, is a VVREO board member. He said the organization has a new energized board of directors with representatives from all Verde Valley communities.

"It takes an organization like VVREO to knock down barriers between communities," he said. "We need to think, act and plan regionally in the Verde Valley."

He explained that some communities have difficulty building regional economic efforts because of territorialism. That has to be eliminated in order to pull communities together.

"I represent the Cottonwood Economic Development Council," Rooney said. "I am not threatened by VVREO. It is the opposite. I see VVREO as a partner."

It seems that is a philosophy shared and followed by everyone involved with VVREO.

"All of us at VVREO are volunteers," said Chicoine. "We have no paid staff."

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