MONTROSE – Region 10 League for Economic Assistance and Planning's executive director, Paul Gray, came to Montrose almost a decade ago to retire and follow his artistic passions, but his motivation to save the Region 10 organization from a potential collapse drove Gray back into the business management realm.
Now that the organization is back on its feet and in the black, Gray is once again going to pick up his paintbrush.
Gray announced to the Region 10 board last week that he will retire as executive director effective Dec. 21.
"I'm turning 66 in January and thought it was a good time to retire," he said.
Gray joined Region 10 as its part-time director in February of 2006, hired by the board to see if the organization could be saved.
Region 10, which serves the six counties of San Miguel, Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison, Delta and Hinsdale, is a nonprofit that was established in 1972 to offer public programs.
"We take on some of the burden of local government, but we do it regionally, which makes us more efficient," Gray said.
And with less restrictions than government, such services can be done more cheaply, he added.
But that wasn't the case in 2006 for Region 10. The organization was making no money, and each year, was falling more and more into debt. In 2007, its enterprise center, which now houses local businesses and organizations, had more than $45,000 in expenses and was taking in no revenue.
"The building was in bad shape and had no tenants," Gray said.
In 2007, Region 10 under Gray was able to get a loan from Citizens State Bank of Ouray to upgrade the facility — a $500,000 project.
The end result was an enterprise center with 37 offices to house nonprofits and small business start-ups. Currently, only one of those offices is vacant, and the center is finally holding strong in the black.
But a crumbling facility wasn't the only issue when Gray came on board.
Grant funding used to support Region 10 and its programs had dwindled, but the programs and staff hadn't adapted to that decrease in income, Gray said.
"They were reluctant to close programs and let people go," he said.
But the poor environment resulted in many employees leaving anyway, and in 2006, there were only a few employees left.
And as a result, programs also were suffering.
Besides providing business space in its enterprise center at 300 North Cascade Avenue in Montrose, the organization runs several public programs, including the Area Agency on Aging and the Business Loan Fund.
Those programs have seen greater success under Gray’s leadership.
The Area Agency on Aging is a networking center for the area's seniors, helping them live independently as long as they can. Within the past year, the program provided more than $1 million in senior service assistance to such organizations as All Points Transit and the senior meal program.
For example, during its 2012 fiscal year, Region 10 distributed more than $205,000 to meal site programs and more than $118,000 to home delivery meal programs. It gave more than $180,000 to transportation for seniors, as well as thousands of dollars to caregiver support, legal aid and dental prevention, according to the organization.
The program recently hired a new director and assistant director, and will soon be shifting to a more client-centered care structure where it will have more direct contact with seniors, Gray said.
Region 10 is partly funded by dues from its surrounding members, such as city and county governments.
Those entities get a good return on their investment, Gray said.
In fiscal year 2012, Area Agency on Aging member collections came in just under $32,000, but the organization was able to provide more than $1 million in AAA services.
The Business Loan Fund also has improved, and small businesses have gotten more loans from the organization than ever before – 10 loans in the past year, totaling $430,000, Gray said.
And Region 10 also is helping businesses and individuals obtain tax credits.
Businesses which make capital investments, such as purchasing new equipment, are eligible for tax credits.
In fiscal year 2012, Region 10 recorded more than $108 million in capital investments made by area businesses, and it was able to help those businesses get more than $2.7 million in tax credits. As a result of those investments, 264 new jobs were created, he said.
Region 10's Enterprise Zone Contribution Project also helps people get tax credits when they donate to one of its state-certified nonprofits. In fiscal year 2012, more than $2.1 million in donations were made to entities such as the Telluride-Montrose Regional Air Organization, the Wright Opera House Foundation, Ridgway Concert Series, and Public Art in Ridgway, and those donors got 25 percent of their donations back, totally more than $535,000 in the form of tax credits, Gray said.
"We've really taken advantage of the benefits for nonprofits in the region," he said. "And we've put a lot of money back into the pockets of our local businesses."
Although the rebuilding phase is over, Gray said his replacement will have plenty of new ventures to pursue as Region 10 engages in regional economic development plans.
Those plans will outline what needs to be done in the region to build its economy, and Region 10 will be a part of that, he said.
The board has yet to pursue Gray's replacement, as the announcement is fairly new. Gray said he'll meet with the board in the coming weeks to discuss what kind of person may be best for the executive director position.
Gray said he believes a good candidate would be a good networker, have strong financial skills, and a knack for grant seeking and writing.
"But really, it's up to the board," he said.
And when the board makes that decision, Gray will step aside and start where he left off almost 10 years ago – painting the area which he worked so hard to strengthen.
Kati O'Hare at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @katiohare