SANDPOINT — After months of discussions and research, a team of community leaders have identified education as the cure for a multitude of woes.
Participants of the Bonner/Boundary Priority Planning Project met Thursday afternoon to finalize prioritization for their work, the second phase of a five-part process designed to craft community improvement projects. After dozens of meetings involving more than 80 volunteers, participants identified economic vitality and education as the top priority for the region.
“We realized that educational needs were a common theme that underlined all of this,” Bonner County Economic Development Corporation director Karl Dye said.
The first effort the group made was to pinpoint root causes for problems in five categories, including economic vitality, education, community safety, the environment and local health.
Members identified a low percentage of advanced degrees in the community as key issues for both economic vitality and education. Community safety experts were concerned about a lack of access to mental health care and a high suicide rate. The environmental team targeted a lack of knowledge and appreciation for the environment as their root cause. Finally, health care experts noted that residents ignoring treatable illnesses was uncommonly prevalent in the Panhandle counties.
Project members voted to tie economic vitality and education together as the top priority. According to Dye, the low percentage of individuals who achieve college degrees oftentimes grinds business potential to a halt. By helping individuals earn these degrees, he said community leaders are not only improving individuals but also expanding economic potential and appeal to existing companies.
“If you can raise the number of degrees in an area, you become more attractive to businesses,” Dye said.
With the initiation and prioritization phases in the bag, team members now have a direction for the rest of the project. Future meetings will focus on strategy by establishing goals and data-driven programs. After that comes implementation, during which volunteers seek funding and partnerships with appropriate nonprofits. Finally, the evaluation phase measures progress and adjusts procedures to be more effective. After that, the whole process simply starts over again.
“We’ve all worked very hard,” Dye said. “I want us all to come away with something we can see, believe in and work on together.”