Hospital expansions, roads and preschools are among the hundreds of projects Ken Charles of Durango has worked on during his 29 years as a regional manager for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
Projects he worked with in La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, Dolores and San Juan counties received $150 million in grant funding from his department. The newly remodeled La Plata County Courthouse and Administration Building were among the projects that benefited from this funding.
As regional manager, Charles helped local governments in eight counties prepare strong grant applications for diverse projects, from basic infrastructure like water plants and roads, to economic drivers like the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Fitness Center.
“I got to work with local governments and help them problem-solve,” he said.
In late September, the Region 9 Economic Development District Board of Directors honored Charles’ work with the Ed Morlan Economic Development Leader of the Year Award. The award recognizes achievements in regional economic development and was renamed this year in honor of Morlan, who led Region 9 for 27 years and died last fall.
In addition to working together, Charles and Morlan were friends and traveled together. “I was very touched,” Charles said.
While Charles worked in the public sector, many of the projects he worked on helped drive employment, such as hospital expansions in Montezuma and Archuleta counties and a co-working space in Montrose.
Others, such as basic water systems, ensured communities would be appealing to businesses, Region 9 Director Laura Lewis Marchino said.
“Community development is economic development,” DOLA Executive Director Irv Halter said.
Charles was a good fit in his position because he worked in city and county government before starting at DOLA and has an “ encyclopedic” knowledge of local government, Halter said.
As the manager, he was always available to local government representatives and had incredible energy to cover an eight-county region, he said.
“He really truly cared and continues to care for those communities,” Halter said.
He was most involved in replacing aging water treatment facilities in Nucla and Naturita with a single facility to serve both towns about 15 years ago.
The towns’ leaders asked for his help on the project that took about four years to establish a water authority.
“I had a relationship with them and I had trust and credibility,” he said.
In addition to managing grant programs, Charles also helped towns and counties set goals, prioritize needs and provide technical assistance.
Charles retired in June and he plans to stay in Durango and work as a consultant. Recently, he’s been helping Silverton search for a town manager.