Woodland Park Fall Short in $500,000 Small Business Revolution Bid

~ Rick Langenberg ~ 

Woodland residents and supporters won’t have to worry about voting now and often, and rallying support from their friends, associates and even enemies, within the next few days.

Despite a valiant community effort, highlighted by an aggressive campaign with daily social media alerts, intensive media coverage, special video productions, the formation of a slew of working committees and constant pep talks by local leaders, Woodland Park fell short in its bid to make it to the final five for the Small Business Revolution on Main Street national competition.  

Woodland Park was one of eight communities in the running for a $500,000 grant. The program was sponsored by the Deluxe Corporation. Deluxe, a check-and-business-form company, started the Small Business Revolution program in 2015 . Last year, the program launched the annual competition for $500,000 in marketing, business support and other needed assistance.

During a highly publicized live announcement last week in New York City, Woodland officials learned they didn’t get into the winner’s circle. Instead, the competition organizers chose the following finalists: Bristol Borough, Pa; Georgetown, South Carolina; Kingsburg, California; North Adams, Mass; and Red Wing, Minn. These communities now are in a race to garner the most votes until Feb. 16 for the top prize.

The fact that Woodland didn’t make into the top five was a disappointing setback. During a recent week’s council meeting, WP Mayor Neil Levy expressed much optimism that Woodland would get into the final five and tried to prepare the community and local residents for the actual voting period.

“We are heartbroken,” said Darlene Jensen, the coordinator of the Woodland Park Main Street program, in an interview last week.  “No question about it, this was disappointing blow. Of all the finalists, we really felt we had the best chance (to win the top grant). We were ready to vote.”  

Across the community, many business owners believed  Woodland Park had a good chance to make it to the final five, but could face a big challenge to win the top prize due to its limited population base. According to the grant award setup, the winning town is determined by the number of votes cast in its favor among the top five finalists. At last week’s on-line announcement, Deluxe’s Amanda Brinkman estimated that the winning community would probably have to record 200,000 tallies. Woodland Park leaders, though, were confident they could have achieve this goal, based on the preliminary support its bid had received.  

WP community leaders are downplaying last week’s defeat, citing the fact that advancing this far in the national competition amounted to a major triumph. Woodland Park, which applied for the grant last October, ascended to a finalist position, beating out thousands of other communities. It was selected out of 14,000 communities.

“Our community was brought together and the small businesses, town, region and state rallied around the Deluxe Corporation Small Business Revolution opportunity. We even had the TV series Duck Dynasty followers and the country star artist, Katy Graves, as well as Pikes Peak Hill Climb and Rocky Mountain State Games, our Main Street friends, Charis Bible College, the (Colorado) Governor’s Office. et. al., ready to vote for Woodland Park,” said Jensen, in an e-mail blast, following the Deluxe announcement regarding the top five finalists. “We understand it provided exceptional recognition and exposure for Woodland Park and Main Streets throughout the nation…Thank you for being a vital part of our community,” she added.   

The WP Main Street coordinator noted that the town scored a major publicity triumph, even though they weren’t picked. She stated that Woodland Park has been the subject of many media interviews and even television special that aired last weekend. Plus, the Deluxe corporation is doing a major video on Woodland Park.   

Jensen believes Woodland Park may have fallen short because of its highway challenges and due to the fact that it isn’t a depressed community. In evaluating the winning communities in the past, she cited the lack of a real downtown square as a major hurdle. “We are challenged by our highway situation,” said Jensen

And as part of its Small Business Revolution program, she said Deluxe typically awards the money to towns where the funds can make the biggest impact. These often involve towns that are suffering from tough economic times.

Jensen said the Main Street effort will now focus on such efforts as the Moose Is Loose campaign, which kicked off last Saturday.

If the town had won the award, they had planned to use a portion of the money for such purposes as improving signage on a walkway between a parking lot north of U.S. Hwy. 24 and the city’s downtown area and for safety barriers between U.S. Hwy 24 and sidewalks and other beatification efforts.

Even though Woodland Park didn’t get into the winning circle, the Main Street coordinator wants to keep the community momentum going. A variety of workshops will be held in the next month and a half to further support Woodland Park in its downtown and main street revival efforts. Through a grant with the Colorado Department of Transportation, a vision development forum will be held on March 9 at the Ute Pass Cultural Center. This program, which will feature a consultant, is aimed at helping towns with major highway challenges, such as Woodland Park. Another key meeting, involving a few state agencies to help promote a new downtown street enhancement effort, is scheduled for later next month.  

“We need to do something,” said Jensen. In addition, WP officials may mull the possibility of pursuing the Deluxe grant again next year.