Program Coordinator Heidi Moore said the idea was hatched in 2006, when representatives from community organizations such as the County Board of Supervisors and Chamber of Commerce, various employers and the Humboldt County Office of Education (HCOE) Deputy Superintendent Jon Sapper came together to figure out how to respond to changing economic conditions. At that time, they drafted a proposal document that later served as the underpinnings of the Decade of Difference Initiative.
The group was concerned that the economic safety net that had existed for generations of workers without a strong educational foundation had disappeared, and the county’s economy was suffering.
The North Coast lumber industry, for example, had provided decent-paying jobs for those who weren’t successful in school, but now almost all the mills are closed. An aging population, a dropout rate of 15 percent and the lure of high incomes in the local marijuana industry hamper the ability of local employers to find willing and prepared employees.
The architects behind the Decade of Difference knew that their proposal to redefine the county’s economic base would require a strong and well connected “backbone agency” with the resources and knowledge to take the lead on the Initiative, Moore said. They believed that HCOE was “perfectly situated” to take on the challenge, and the Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Garry Eagles enthusiastically agreed.
Following the formalization of the proposal to a working framework, the Decade of Difference Initiative received a ten year, $1.5 million commitment from the Headwater’s Fund Board, marking the belief from this local economic development organization that the Initiative would require resources and time to be able to work towards long-term solutions. In addition to the Headwater Fund Board dollars, the Initiative is also supported financially through HCOE and various external grants.