By Steve Ayers
VERDE VALLEY - While most people go about their business, making a living by day and pursuing life's pleasures in the off hours, there is a core group of people who spend much of their spare time changing the face of the Verde Valley.
It can be argued, however, that to a person, the core group finds the challenges of planning the Valley's future to be one of life's pleasures.
A little over three years ago, a group of business and government leaders met at Yavapai College to focus on the Valley's economic future. They called themselves the Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization.
Over the last three years, VVREO has spent its time identifying what the Valley has going for it, what it is lacking and what it is we want it to look like five years, 10 years, even 50 years down the road.
Friday, VVREO convened its first Symposium on the State of the Verde Valley. It was, in a sense, a coming out party for the organization, an opportunity to show the world what it had accomplished and a chance to spread its message of prosperity, sustainability and growing smart.
VVREO has become the guiding force behind many organizations and ongoing efforts to build a base on which to grow the local economy.
They are the umbrella group behind the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, an organization that has helped local wineries double their business over the last year while demonstrating to the world that the Verde Valley is producing world-class wines.
They are also the organization working to bring high-speed broadband Internet service to the Valley, a critical infrastructure component if the Verde Valley is to be competitive in the global economy.
Additionally, they have worked hand in hand with Yavapai College to tailor the school's curriculum to match what the business community is looking for.
And they are laying plans to create a Verde Valley enterprise zone to help lure new businesses.
VVREO has also teamed with other organizations in the valley to help spread their missions.
These partners include the fledgling Arts Council of the Verde Valley, the Verde Valley Housing Taskforce, Yavapai County Specialty and Light Manufacturing Association, Clarkdale Sustainability Park and the continually growing sustainable agriculture movement.
All the while, the organization is committed to an economy that retains the valley's sense of place and puts issues of clean water, clean air and responsible use of resources above all else.
In summing up the current state of the valley, VVREO Chairman Robyn Prud'homme-Bauer told the 100-plus attendees at Friday's symposium, "We have a good, solid base for a stable regional economy, but we are not without challenges."
In describing what the future may be, Cottonwood Economic Development Director Casey Rooney said it would depend largely on the community: "Each community is different but one thing will remain the same. Innovation and entrepreneurship will drive the economic future of the Verde Valley."
To make all their dreams happen, Prud'homme-Bauer told the crowd in closing that VVREO is continually looking for "diverse, dedicated and compassionate" people who find the challenges of economic growth to be "fun."