Lacy reflects on chamber transformation as he steps down

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“Ridgway is on the map right now,” he said. “It’s time for the business community to own it.”

  • Colin Lacy, 34, is reflecting on his time as Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors president after announcing he’s stepping down. Lacy said he’s proud of the chamber’s transformation in the past few years. Plaindealer photo by Erin McIntyre
    Colin Lacy, 34, is reflecting on his time as Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors president after announcing he’s stepping down. Lacy said he’s proud of the chamber’s transformation in the past few years. Plaindealer photo by Erin McIntyre
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Colin Lacy is the kind of guy who wants to leave things better than he found them.

He left Ridgway after graduating from high school in 2003 and always had his eye on coming back.

So that’s what he did about four years ago, after earning degrees from the University of Colorado and Harvard. He got a job he could do almost anywhere, and decided to come back to the place he loves.

Now, he’s leaving his position as president of the the Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. And while it was a tough decision to step down, he knows the chamber is in a better place than it was when he first took on the volunteer position.

Lacy announced last week he’s leaving the position due to family health issues — his children survived a rare, life-threatening illness over the summer — and cited a need to focus on their recovery as well as the demands of his full-time job. His two sons, aged 2 1/2 and 5, contracted a rare form of E.coli bacteria while on a trip to Denver over the summer. They both developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, which resulted in lengthy hospital stays and long recovery.

Lacy was away from work for six weeks, leaving him with a tough decision about his priorities when he returned and continued to support his children’s health. The family is also building a house on Log Hill, which has compounded the situation, and ultimately he announced his decision to leave the presidency. Rigs Fly Shop co-owner Tim Patterson, the board’s vice president, will finish out Lacy’s term as president, which ends in January.

Looking back on his tenure on the chamber board and as president, Lacy says it’s hard to say what he’s most proud of accomplishing. But it’s clear his time on the board has been punctuated by efforts to build relationships with other entities, to leverage resources and determine a clear path for moving the business community forward.

When Lacy first returned to Ridgway, he approached the local chamber of commerce about launching a “shop local” campaign to encourage residents to spend their dollars at local businesses. The One Ridgway campaign led to him joining the Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce board, and becoming the president, and taking on lots of other initiatives as the chamber found a new niche.

“I would say the (chamber’s) identity is an organization that has a role in advancing economic opportunity in Ridgway and beyond,” he said.

It hasn’t been easy getting to this point, Lacy said. Some of his goals when he took on the leadership position on the chamber board included “re-setting the relationship” with the town and looking for more opportunities to support businesses in addition to the chamber’s primary activities at that point, which were operating the visitors' center and producing an annual visitors guide.

“The chamber had not historically had a strong relationship with the town of Ridgway,” Lacy said. “There were hurdles to get over, especially initially.”

But in recent years, the chamber has collaborated with the town on various projects, including making Ridgway part of the Colorado Creative Corridor.

The chamber has also worked with the town on plans for the new visitors' center, the gateway to the community just off U.S. 550, which has been housed by an old pigsty for generations. A tourism office grant is helping to fund the transformation, which is poised to begin.

And recently, the chamber worked with the Ouray Tourism Office to receive an off-season tourism grant to help promote the area to high-dollar tourists and encourage more visitation during the slower times of year, when businesses tend to struggle with revenue. This effort came just two years after the Ridgway chamber first collaborated with its counterpart in Ouray to produce a combined visitors' guide, instead of having two separate publications with different narratives.

One of Lacy’s goals was help transform the chamber into a board-advised, staff-managed organization, which he says is happening now.

“I’m proud to be in that position now,” he said, adding he thinks the chamber’s best days are ahead with the chamber team that’s in place right now.

Lacy said he’s leaving the chamber board at a time where it has strong leadership from Hilary Lewkowitz, who manages the chamber staff and has a background in sustainable tourism.

“The organization now has the staffing, the passion and the expertise to move forward,” he said.

One of the things he lists as an accomplishment is starting the local apprenticeship program through the chamber, which just finished its second year with three youth apprentices. The program, funded by the Ridgway Chamber Golf Open, finances apprenticeships where local students can apply to work for local businesses. The students have to apply for the positions, write resumes and interview with their potential employers, giving them valuable real-world experience in the job market.

Last year, the chamber also started its first youth ambassador program, which gives a local student experience with social media, writing for the annual visitors' guide and other duties that develop professional skills.

For Lacy, a focus on youth programs was important to better involve students and allow them to obtain real-world experience while also supporting local businesses that need help and are willing to provide training for enthusiastic, young talent. This is an extension of his profession, which focuses on authentic learning experiences for kids in science, technology, engineering and math areas of study. His role as managing director of Makers + Mentors, formerly called US 2020, serves 150,000 students across the country.

Lacy said he hopes the chamber will continue to expand youth programs and especially find a way to support youth who grow up in Ridgway, just as he did, who want to stay or come back.

He said all the past few years’ efforts have pointed the chamber in the right direction and it’s headed on a good trajectory for future success.

“Ridgway is on the map right now,” he said. “It’s time for the business community to own it.”