'There is grit and resolve'

March 14, 2007 12:00 am
Economic guru David Beurle addresses a group during a four-day visit to Crescent City last month. This week, he released his assessment of whether or not the community was ready to move ahead on economic development. (The Daily Triplicate).
Economic guru David Beurle addresses a group during a four-day visit to Crescent City last month. This week, he released his assessment of whether or not the community was ready to move ahead on economic development. (The Daily Triplicate).

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By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Although Del Norte County residents have the desire and the wherewithal to find a new future for themselves, negative impressions of this community also loom large, according to an assessment of it by an guru from Australia.

Titled "Report to the Community — Del Norte County, Ca.," Beurle e-mailed the assessment Monday to Chris Howard, Chamber of Commerce-Crescent City-Del Norte County president, his contact here.

Beurle, managing director of Innovative Leadership Australia, was in town from Feb. 27 to March 2. During that time, he met with numerous people representing various groups here.

For the past three days, Wayne Schell with the California Association for Local Economic Development, has met with some of the same civic and business leaders.

Many of those participating in Beurle's sessions commented on the "ugly or unattractive visual image of the city from the 101 highway" — an image he said is "in stark contrast to the incredible natural beauty of the surrounding landscape and marine environments."

Crescent City is shooting itself in the foot by not doing something about the face it presents to passers-by, he wrote.

The risk, Beurle said, is that economic opportunities could be undermined.

"The visual image is often regarded by people to reflect the underlying price of a community — and the visual impressions upon entering a community convey some powerful messages," Beurle wrote.

The area knows it has poverty, but the "history of fragmentation and infighting," he added, have a "strong negative impact on the larger community as it watches confusion and tension between various interest groups."

Beurle saw the interplay during his meetings, noting that the observation was interesting because "they actually share some very common values and desires."

Kevin Hartwick, owner of Cholwell Benz & Hartwick CPAs, participated in Beurle's and Schell's groups. Of the groups, he said that both "can work together."

"They are not mutually exclusive processes," he said. "Beurle's is a critical as business development, but they can work together"

Added chamber President Chris Howard, "Wayne (Schell) is talking to the same group that's been trying to get something done; David is looking at a community effort."

Del Norters, to a person, were open and honest in talking about local issues, but they sense "fragmentation" and "lack of clarity about the future" as a huge block in their road to progress, Beurle wrote.

"Many groups are working on bold and visionary projects and ideas that have the potential to make a profound impact on the economic future of the county," Beurle said. The pockets of activity, he said, "are not well linked and in some cases have become embroiled in local controversy."

The county is surrounded by a "world renowned" ecosystem, which gives it an "unparalleled" economic asset, a potential foundation for economic development in "the new economy that includes dimensions such as high value tourism, the green economy and sustainable living."

Beurle sensed an "authentic quality" about the county and its people, and a "unique history and heritage" to this area.

"By tapping into the underlying values and character of local residents, the community can build on its real strengths," he said. "There is grit and resolve in that can be turned into the drive and tenacity it takes to build a stronger community."

But "There is a clear lack of a unifying vision," Beurle wrote. "This is leading to fragmented and at times divisive views, resulting in confusion and frustration by people who want to make a difference."

Although the community has "pockets of creative ideas," Beurle said no system of capturing their innovative thinking exists.

"Ideas seem to float up in discussion, but then have nowhere to go," he wrote. "There are numerous groups who have the capacity to contribute the new thinking that is required, but there is no apparent mechanism for them to participate."

Completely left out of the process are the schools, "potential incubators of creative thought" that are "disconnected" from the existing decision making process.

In addition, "The overall community culture was observed to be conservative and beaten down."

Beurle sensed little "wide-spread celebration, success or positive community building" in the community.

"Building a positive community attitude is a critical issue, but it takes time and effort to engage the hearts and minds of people who choose to make Del Norte County their home," he wrote.

Overlaying the community is a "very thin line of leadership," one in which few carry the load. Beginning a community-wide process to shape the future, Beurle said, "Requires many people taking personal responsibility for steering the community towards a common goal."

Beurle is not due back here until May 3, when he will meet again with groups to delve deeper into the community's process of determining its chosen direction.

As Howard sees it, the community is at the crux of four directions.

"Do we want to be a retirement community with a service work force, or return to the logging and fishing industries, which isn't too likely," he said, "or do we want to focus on economic development through entrepreneurship, or stay the same?"

Howard's hope is that within two to three months, the community will feel more hope.

"David is just the catalyst," he said. "What's neat about his process is that he lets the new leadership, the community, come forward."