As the state slowly moves toward a reopening, economic developers across the state are beginning to look at recovery.
Where you are in the state will drastically change how you view recovery. In Grand Junction, we had only just begun to climb out of a decade-long recession.
Eleven percent unemployment was only a few years behind us and despite being in our third year of positive economic growth, we still are dealing with the repercussions of crime, poverty and low wages.
Efforts at diversification and incentive programs like Rural Jumpstart have helped significantly, but we still have a long way to go to reach a stable, healthy economy.
In Pueblo, unemployment was low, growth was positive and by all accounts it looked like we would see stronger growth than enjoyed in years past.
Then came COVID-19. And it feels like one step forward, two steps back. The incredible prosperity that Colorado has experienced over the past decade has been limited to about 10 counties, while the remaining 55 counties have continued to struggle to diversify, grow and attract new business.
As leaders of economic development in communities that haven’t shared in the economic abundance of the Denver-Boulder area, we’re now trying to imagine what economic recovery from this latest crisis should look like in the rest of Colorado.
And this is where we have an advantage over our Metro Denver neighbors. The last recession is still very fresh in our memories. In Grand Junction, our oil and gas boom ground to a halt. We lost 8,000 people from our workforce, causing sales and property taxes to decline for five straight years. The only thing that kept us afloat during that time was tourism and construction.
Luckily for us, Colorado Mesa University continued to grow and the State of Colorado approved capital projects that kept our construction workers employed. That, coupled with significant expansions at two of our hospitals, helped keep our community afloat during a historically difficult time.
In Pueblo, manufacturing drove much of our growth. Pueblo also engaged in significant capital projects, such as the expansion of the Pueblo Historic Arkansas Riverwalk, Pueblo Convention Center and the Professional Bull Riders Sports Performance Center.
And so in this time of economic crisis, we’re calling on our state leaders to recognize the power of capital infrastructure projects. Communities in every corner of Colorado – from Durango to Craig; from Sterling to Trinidad – have shovel-ready capital construction projects that are ready to go. Many of these projects are on institutions of higher learning.
Beyond the inherent value academic facilities bring to rural communities, the direct economic impact of these projects is a tremendously powerful tool for stimulus, recovery and keeping people employed.
As federal stimulus funding arrives in Colorado, our state leaders would be wise to take a page from the previous recovery by funding these critical projects.
We’re heartened by the bipartisan leadership being demonstrated by Gov. Jared Polis, Sen. Cory Gardner, Sen. Michael Bennet and others during this crisis.
We are optimistic that we’ll keep this spirit of cooperation alive as we navigate the next year of recovery, and we are hopeful that with the support of the state, our recovery won’t turn into another decade-long recession.
In Grand Junction and Pueblo, we have our golden shovels on standby and we’re eager to break ground on critical infrastructure projects whenever our leaders are ready.
Robin Brown is the Executive Director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. Jeffrey Shaw is the President of the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation.