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VIDA director brings with him ‘sense of community'

July 02, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

There's not enough room to write about this guy, that's how much he has done.

"This guy" is Ken Hollis, executive director of the Valley of Imperial Development Alliance.

What is VIDA?

"VIDA is the community and economic development department for the county of Imperial," Hollis says.

Hollis recently made presentations on how to break into the music industry and entrepreneurship at two community events, including the Imperial Valley Arts & Entertainment Youth Conference 2001 and a pre-employment workshop sponsored by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in partnership with the Minority Business Association of Southern California.

His efforts were appreciated.

Marlene Thomas, local NAACP president, said Hollis was invited to the NAACP conference because of his position and because few people know what VIDA can do for them.

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"Mr. Hollis brings a sense of community with him and believes in empowerment," Thomas said. "He has a real belief in the economic future of the Imperial Valley. With that belief he balances inclusiveness and the need to develop and sustain small businesses.

"I feel good about Mr. Hollis and where he's going to take the county," Thomas said.

Brian Cochran, Imperial County Coalition in Celebration of Cesar Chavez coalition committee director and director of Youth Empowerment Inc., said Hollis was invited to make a presentation because of Hollis' economic development position.

"We always look past him to the mayor or city manager, and yet his background is in entertainment and entrepreneurship," Cochran said.

One of those who encouraged Hollis to apply for the VIDA job was then county Supervisor Bill Cole.

"I was very impressed with the work he'd done in San Diego and his knowledge," Cole said. "He certainly appears to have gotten things turned around at VIDA. He has a background that's fitting. I think he's done a good job."

Supervisor Wally Leimgruber also encouraged Hollis to take the job. Leimgruber said during the interview with Hollis he came across as professional and sincere and that Hollis convinced him he would do his best to make VIDA's then-troubled low-income housing program successful.

It was not without that encouragement that he took the job, he said, because the bad press the agency surrounding the alleged misuse of as much as $1.7 million in housing funds. A former VIDA employee was recently arrested in connection with the funds.

"I was not overly enthusiastic about taking the job," he said. "They felt I was the right person."

Now, Hollis says he enjoys working at VIDA because of the people and his involvement in the community.

He said the biggest challenge facing him and VIDA is getting the agency integrated into the community and to get VIDA clearly seen as a county department. To that end, Hollis said he will shortly approach the county Board of Supervisors and propose the name VIDA be changed to Imperial County Community & Economic Development.

At the time he was considering the VIDA position, Hollis was executive vice president of the San Diego-based Occupational Training Services, a nonprofit group that handled state and federal funds to build affordable housing and foster self-sufficiency.

Living in El Centro already, Hollis was commuting to work in San Diego while his wife was commuting to work in Yuma. Meanwhile, their son was growing up here.

His family's living arrangements and the assurances that his proposed changes for VIDA would be supported convinced him to take the job.

Hollis said VIDA was initially envisioned to have representatives from the county's various cities, the Imperial Irrigation District, local education districts, county government and the Coachella and Mexicali valleys.

"The idea of having an organization to promote Valleywide economic development at that time was good timing, and all the different agencies bought into it," Hollis said.

Hollis said VIDA's role in economic development includes marketing the area, encouraging the expansion of infrastructure, business development and affordable housing. Those efforts are limited to the unincorporated areas of the county, however.

He said VIDA is responsible for applying to the state for grants to build infrastructure for affordable housing communities, such as the Poe Colonia in Brawley.

A colonia is a state designation for an area without water and sewer services from centralized treatment plants. For federal funding purposes, a colonia is an unincorporated community within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hollis said grant moneys are available from state and federal governments for economic development on a yearly basis and Imperial County has more grant moneys available per capita than any other California county.

"So money is not the problem," he said. "Economic development is also human investment."

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