Attracting workforce and providing them with affordable housing aren't unique issues to the Grand County community, but one collaborative project is aiming to provide a local solution.
The Grand County Economic Development Department, in collaboration with several employers and county resource providers, is working to create a workforce web portal that would feature information on job openings, housing, childcare, education, business resources and other services related to finding and keeping work in the county.
A beta version of the web portal, grandcountyjobs.com, is currently online and at a public discussion at the Headwaters Center on Wednesday evening, employers and employees were invited to provide feedback on what the portal should provide and how it could best serve the community.
"It's not just about the website, it's really about these important issues, so there are other things we are discussing," said DiAnn Butler, executive director of the Grand County Economic Development Department. "What we hope to do is keep expanding the conversation."
At the discussion, there were five tables, each representing a topic covered by the website, where participants were encouraged to provide feedback on existing ideas and make suggestions for what else to include. For example, at the housing table many participants suggested being able to narrow down housing options through categories like accessibility and whether a property is pet-friendly.
Hrishue Mahalaha, a consultant from Innovation Economy Partners working on the project, said they plan to use the feedback to continue tweaking the website and include the missing pieces.
"The idea is that we've got to take all of this feedback and try to prioritize it," he explained. "Our goal really is to do two things, find a way in which we can recruit talent to Grand County, but more importantly figure out how we can retain our talent here."
Mahalaha said the importance of getting feedback, aside from helping to provide a user-friendly site, is to encourage community buy-in and engagement so that the portal can stay updated and maintained.
"This is just a website," he explained. "I can't emphasize this point enough, is that we have to think of this as a mechanism. (…) We have to be very engaged with our employees and employers to see what pieces are working, what's not working and I imagine a year from now, it may look dramatically different than it does today."
It also helped to spread awareness about the services that already exist in the county to help people continue their education, start a business, afford housing and childcare.
Butler said they will likely hold more feedback events as they update the website so that the final product will meet the needs of the community. She said they hope to have the final version of the website up in the spring.
"Part of what we hope the website does is put it in one place, because oftentimes on government or nonprofit sites our workforce isn't necessarily figuring out how to connect with us," she said. "We're hoping the portal can help put together things we already have. Sometimes I feel like we create some amazing programs, but if nobody knows about them, what good are they?"
But beyond the website, Butler said she hopes that through the project they have built permanent networks and connections.
Mahalaha agreed that the most important part of the project has been creating processes to share information, have discussions and solve community-wide issues.
"If all we do is create the awareness amongst employers, although it may sound like a really low bar, it's a great place to start," he said.