Fort Collins and Regionalism

Jun 28, 2011 | Regional Focus

As I write this in late June 2011, Leadership Northern Colorado is about to graduate its second class. A joint initiative of the Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland Chambers of Commerce, the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado and the Community Foundation Serving Greeley and Weld County, this six-month interactive development program focuses on regional issues, regionalism and regional leadership skills.  The program is designed to educate and motivate leaders who want to shape the future of our region.

So, one might ask, why? Why does it matter that we work together as a region? For that matter, what is a region?*

What is a region?

A region is a community of interests that may be as small as a neighborhood or as large as several states (Great Lakes Region) or even an entire continent (the European Union). Thinking regionally means thinking beyond political boundaries to boundaries of those sharing a common interest. Regional thinking may involve a regional planning process though often it is about coalitions working informally on specific projects or initiatives such as economic development, tourism, housing, transportation, and land use.

Regional cooperation is much more than cooperation between governments. Non-profits, businesses and civic organizations all cooperate with others out of common interest on matters that supersede political jurisdictional boundaries. A common interest can exist to increase resources, better leverage existing resources, solve a common problem and find and exploit a competitive niche.

Regional cooperation is about building partnerships, linkages, networks, alliances and trust to develop an influential voice to assist the individual efforts of the partners.

So, a region is a community of interests that magnifies the voice of individual partners to the accomplishment of their goals.

What is the so-called “Northern Colorado Region?”

No uniform definition of the “Northern Colorado Region” exists. Variously it means Larimer County, Weld and Larimer Counties, or parts of the two counties. It depends on the topic: retail trade area, overall economy, water, transportation, labor shed, etc all have different regional boundaries. For simplicity’s sake, at the Chamber when we say “the region” we mean the two-county area.

Why should we care about “regionalism?”

Reasons to support “regionalism” include:

  • To save money. Governments cooperating across their jurisdictional lines often can collectively save money. The same is true on activities such as economic development where it is more cost-effective for communities to promote the area collectively rather than separately.
  • To deliver quality services.
  • To achieve greater political clout.
  • To achieve economic clout.
  • To solve a specific problem.
  • To plan more realistically.
  • To align resources to better match how economic and environmental systems actually work. Political boundaries are usually arbitrary and inflexible whereas economies and natural systems are much more organic
  • To create a sense of local and regional harmony
  • To complement strengths and weaknesses

What are the regional mechanisms / organizations?

Regional residents shop, work, pray and play throughout the area without much regard to political boundaries. However, there are some formal structures in place where regional (meaning at least parts of both Weld and Larimer Counties) issues and agendas are discussed such as:

  • Northern Colorado Business Report
  • Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance
  • North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization
  • Colorado Department of Transportation District 4

Though only covering part of the region, other noteworthy entities that cross at least municipal boundaries are:

  • Community Foundation of Larimer County
  • Community Foundation Serving Greeley and Weld County
  • United Way of Larimer County
  • Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation
  • Upstate Colorado Economic Development Corporation
  • Joint meetings of Larimer County Commission and City Councils of Fort Collins and Loveland
  • Numerous private businesses that do business throughout Larimer County or a multi-county area or even beyond

In Closing

Fort Collins remains the dominant community in Northern Colorado by a variety of measures – population, economy, education attainment, etc. But to an increasing degree, the quality of life and economic vitality of the two-county area is interdependent. Having relationships across the region with a shared understanding of the common opportunities and challenges and appreciation for the unique aspects of the various communities and counties in the region will be key to creating the kind of future we want.

* Some information was pulled from a source document that I can’t find!  I will properly cite it when I do.