IGNACIO - The 11th annual Economic Summit kicked off Wednesday morning in Ignacio with a focus on growing the local economy, leadership and partnership.
Organized by the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, the forum attracted more than 300 entrepreneurs, business owners and employees from around the region to Sky Ute Casino in Ignacio.
Roger Zalneraitis, executive director for the economic development alliance, said the summit has three main goals.
"We want people to make new connections here, hear about new ideas from the business world, and learn something they can implement at their business the very next day," he said.
Zalneraitis stressed the importance of small businesses working together to support one another.
"Small businesses face numerous challenges," he said. "It is important to network with other businesses to solve these problems."
Keynote speaker Kimber Lanning, founder and executive director of Local First Arizona, reiterated the importance of collaborative business efforts during her workshop, "Community Collaboration and Partnerships: How to Leverage your Localness."
"Local businesses need to collaborate and check their egos at the door," she said. "We need to work together even though our clientele is not the same. Local businesses need to go that extra mile for their customers."
Local First Arizona is a statewide organization that works to implement innovative strategies for new models of economic development that create vibrant local economies.
Lanning said one of her biggest pet peeves is businesses that do not open according to their posted hours.
"People get frustrated when businesses are not open when they are supposed to be," she said. "We have to be convenient and consistent."
Wanda Cason of R Space, a new co-working space in Durango next to the Rochester Hotel, said she has attended the economic summit since its inception in 2006.
"You always learn something new each year," she said. "We are so lucky to have a lot of great businesses in Durango."
Laura Lewis Marchino, executive director for Region 9 Economic Development District, said there is an emerging experience economy in Southwest Colorado.
"People, especially the millennial generation, are spending less on material things and more on experiences," she said. "Tourists want to try local restaurants, mountain biking and riding the train. We need to capitalize on this so that we have a diverse economy."
Marchino said the economic summit helps people see the bigger picture.
"People get stuck in the area where they work," she said. "There are a variety of businesses, and we all interconnect. We can work together to decide the direction we want to go in, and it gives you that perspective that we are doing well as a county."